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

Devon Life - - Promotion - PHO­TOS: Matt Austin

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’

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