A foodie revolution
When it opened 25 years ago as a modest farm shop, who would have guessed it would grow into an award-winning food destination? Orlando Murrin visits Darts Farm
It is usual for a successful business to change direction as it grows. To follow new trends and stay ahead by predicting what’s coming next. Owners and managers come and go, and after a few years, the business usually finds itself doing something totally different from what it started out doing.
The story of Darts Farm, the hugely popular, national multiaward-winning emporium near Topsham, could not be more different: this is a business truly run from the heart. It all began in the late 1970s as a humble farm shop hut. In those days there was no such thing as a ‘local food movement’, but Ronald Dart was ahead of his time, and realised there was excellent food being produced not just on his own farm, but all around him.
In October 1993, the original Pic Fresh business evolved into Darts Farm as we know it today complete with butcher and deli, serve over counters and speciality artisan foods. At the time, championing local and regional produce was a new concept, and no one could be sure it was what the public wanted. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Darts Farm has proved the point, and grown into a flagship for the South West – a showcase for all that’s best in local and regional food.
What is perhaps most remarkable of all, however, is that the enterprise has never swayed from its original mission and values. Darts Farm is still a real, working farm, which sells all its produce in its shop. It is still owned and managed by Ronald Dart’s three sons, Michael, James and Paul. And they still believe that fresh, local and artisanmade food is the future.
“We had a vision that Devon could become a thriving food destination. The county’s geography is perfect for food production, not just the landscape, but the soil and the coastline,” says Michael Dart. “Twenty-five years ago that vision was revolutionary – there was no Taste of the West, no Food Drink Devon, no Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink. Just look how much things have changed.”
Darts Farm has played a major part in that revolution. Many of the producers it has worked with have become household names – such as Quicke’s – and many more won national and international awards – Salcombe Gin, Mrs Gill, Kay’s Cakes, Good Game, Georgie Porgie puddings, Vicky’s Bread, Luscombe Drinks and Hillside. Another source of pride is Green Valley Cyder, made on the farm and now under the expert management of Barny Butterfield, champion cider maker of Sandford Orchards.
Time for Darts Farm to rest on its laurels? Not a bit of it. Autumn sees the launch of its new Artisan School of Food and Drink – offering enthusiasts the chance to hone their skills at the hands of the masters. Shortly afterwards – a Food Heroes dinner, in honour of the names who have helped put Devon food on the map. And then – time to think about Christmas. After all, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to Darts Farm. dartsfarm.co.uk
‘Look at how much the food scene has changed in 25 years’