Eating is an agricultural and an environmental act. The food we choose to eat, including where we buy it from, how we cook it and even what we combine it with on the plate, has a huge impact on farming and land use. Farmers grow to meet the demands of the way we eat, rather than the way we eat reflecting what grows best in the environment around us.
There’s so much information on sustainable farming, from organisations like the Soil Association to the work of pioneering chefs like Dan Barber, which is often complex and sometimes contradictory. This competing advice makes ‘ethical’ food shopping tricky. I can buy veg from the greengrocer, who supports some local farmers, but it’s easier to buy organic from the supermarket… and, later, I’ll discover an article about why organic isn’t necessarily best. Sometimes, it feels like I can’t win!
With these difficulties in mind, I was interested to try out Farmdrop, the self-styled ‘ethical grocer’, which has recently expanded to Bristol and Bath. They offer fresh, locally grown produce, but also products that you can’t get nearby (from citrus fruit to miso paste). This model means you can do your shop in one place, whilst still supporting local producers - ideal for me because I’ll sometimes forgo the greengrocer or butcher for the ease of buying everything at once in the supermarket.
Farmdrop’s four principles aim to re-connect us with where our food comes from and who produces it.
- Keep it local: Farmdrop sources food from within 150 miles, where possible. 80% of their fresh fruit and veg is sourced within 100 miles; in supermarkets just 23% comes from Britain.
- Put animals first: Farmdrop offers only meat from animals reared according to the highest welfare standards.
- Don’t trash our planet: Farmdrop endorses sustainable, environmentally sound farming techniques that preserve resources and enrich the soils for healthier animals and crops.
- Never screw people: Farmdrop pays local farmers 75% of the retail price, compared to 50% from a supermarket.
You can’t deny, Farmdrop sounds fantastic - so how did the experience of shopping with them match up to their promise? I’ll start by saying that it is more expensive that a regular shop: we spent over £50 on a weekly shop for two, not including some staples we already had in (cereals, pasta, sauces). We also had to stop by the supermarket to pick up some bits we couldn’t get at Farmdrop, such as tortilla wraps. Farmdrop assures me, however, that as they expand and demand grows, they’ll be adding to their products and replacing produce from their London suppliers with more local alternatives.
That said, if you’re lucky enough to be able to spend more on your food shop, Farmdrop is unrivalled by other supermarkets in terms of the quality of food and service. The source of every product is clearly indicated, which allows you to make informed choices about what you eat. Even beers and spirits come from small-batch, English producers. Ordering is fairly straightforward - we added to our order, though struggled to see how to remove products once selected - and it was delivered on time by a friendly chap in one of Farmdrop’s 100% electric vans. Customer service seems to go the extra mile: when a bag of sweet potatoes was substituted for one loose potato, they sent an apologetic email within minutes and gave us a £10 voucher.
Most importantly, the food itself is delicious. The vegetables are full of flavour; the garlic is ten times bigger than the usual bulbs; the pears are perfectly ripe and sweet; the yogurt is thick, creamy and mild; in the milk you can taste just a hint of farmyard. But does Farmdrop not only benefit the customer, but also the producers behind this delicious food? I spoke to Caroline from Sole of Discretion, who supplied the fish for our delivery, to find out how this system works at the other end. Happily, it seems she has only good things to say about the ‘ethical grocer’.
“Farmdrop allows us to focus on what we do best (getting quality, ethical fish off our boats), while they focus on marketing it and getting it to you,” Caroline tells me. “They pay a fair price for our fish and, unlike a supermarket, when they run promotions they fund the offers, not us. While money isn’t everything, in a small business it certainly helps and Farmdrop really do give 75% of the sale price to us; this empowers customers to put their money into better fishing practices and be part of a movement towards recovery of fish stocks in our seas.”
Caroline has seen first hand the wider social and environmental impact of Farmdrop’s model. “The best part of working with Farmdrop is the sense of connection and knowledge that together we are all on a journey towards a better food system. Farmdrop are the voice for hundreds of small-scale producers, many of whom, without their support and support of their customers, would be struggling to survive."
Despite claiming she isn't very good at soundbites, Caroline sums up Farmdrop far more neatly than me: "Their business model rewards and protects small producers and gives households the opportunity to buy fresh, local, nutritious and socially empowering food at the click of a mouse.”