ONE of Dorset’s best-known farm shops celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Udder Farm Shop at East Stour, on the A30 west of Shaftesbury, began as a diversification project for farmer’s wife Jane Down and has become one of the success stories of the area.
Jane and husband Brian have won many awards for the shop and for the produce, including their sausages. The shop and popular cafe provide jobs for 30 people, and have a large and loyal customer base within a radius of 15 miles or more,. They are also regular stop-overs for travellers and holidaymakers stocking up en route to or from holidays in the West Country.
The need to diversify was driven by the difficulties facing dairy farmers at the beginning of the 21st century, particularly in the wake of the foot and mouth epidemic. Brian and Jane Down were facing problems shared by many across the country: “There was no way the farm could support me as well, as it had done in previous generations,” says Jane.
She looked at the various options including selling their produce at farmers markets, adapting the farmhouse kitchen to bake cakes to sell, going into ice-cream production, cheese-making or bed and breakfast. But it was a visit to a couple of farm shops in Wiltshire that pointed her in the direction that most appealed.
She and Brian initially looked at converting one of the barns on the farm but this was ruled out by the highways authority so they looked at other sites and settled on the present location, just east of the East Stour crossroads. With a generous rural enterprise DEFRA grant for Jane they were able to build the farm shop, inspired by traditional wooden barns, and to make a large car park.
The main focus has always been their own own meat and produce from local farms and producers. The range has expanded steadily. The busy butchery sellis the Downs’ beef, lamb and pork (including Gloucester Old Spot), and meat from other nearby farms, poultry from Creedy Carver, their own bacon and hams cured by Wiltshire Bacon Company, ready meals, Lavender Blue cakes from Gillingham, deli goods from their own kitchens, bread from Taylors of Bruton, milk from BV Dairy, plus cards ands gifts. They also have a website, West Country Farmers, for customers local and further afield to order their meat throughout the year.
There was a coffee shop within the main building but in 2008 they got planning permission for an extension to create the light and attractive conservatory restaurant.
In their 10th anniversary year, they are planning a further expansion this year, with an L-shaped extension, particularly to meet the demand for the butchery and their ready meals.
Looking back over their first 10 years, Jane says it has been a steady success, although things have not always been easy: “The more things you can offer the better.” says Jane.
Brian says: “You have to give people a reason to stop here or to come out here. But we have traded well over the last two years of recession. We are lucky because we have a good loyal customer base.”
Plans to celebrate the anniversary are still being discussed, but look out for lots of special offers and promotions during the year.
Pictured are: Brian with eight year old Emily and four year old Charlotte
Jane and Brian Down (right) and their farm shop manager David Rhodes, who has been at Udder Farm Shop for four years.
Two of the Udder Farm Shop butchers at work.