Malcolm Jolley observes the good food revolution in Wales and England on his annual holiday.
We are well into two week family holiday in Wales, staying at my in-law’s hill lavender farm near Maesmynis. We’re living well: both of the land from Bill, my father-in-law’s market garden and his well stocked cellar. The other night we made a shepherd’s pie with left over meat from a leg of local lamb we got at Small Farms, a butcher in nearby Hay-on-Wye. All the ingredients, save the lamb and the pantry items like a bit of olive oil and Worcestershire sauce, came from the garden including the potatoes. I have found digging up potatoes an especially calming kind of decompression therapy; I may have to plant myself a bed of them in the backyard next year.
As I have written about before, the farm is a working one. Bill and Nancy grow lavender and distill it into oil here. It’s sent off to be made into creams and baums, but comes back to be packaged and sold under the brand name FARMERS’. During the day the place is a hive of activity with three regular employees to help with everything from from managing the rows of lavender to manning the small shop and serving cake and tea to packing up orders to be mailed out throughout the UK. The older two of my three sons help out a bit too. I don’t because I am, or am at least trying to be, on holiday. But I do often answer the door if I’m inside, and most of the time it’s a delivery person either bringing supplies to the FARMERS’ operation or things Bill has bought online.
Britain has a relatively large population crammed into a relatively small space. That means that a producer of a good has access to a market of roughly 65 million people within one or two days of delivery using the Royal Mail or some other ground transportation service. I was thinking about this after I met an interesting gentleman the other day named Pablo Spaull whose company Forever Cacao makes the FARMERS’ chocolate bar with lavender. Spaull runs a true bean-to-bar operation. He sources his cacao directly from a particular indigenous tribe in Peru. He also doesn’t roast his nibs, so his chocolate is “raw” when it’s ground in a stone mill. As is so often the case with artisan food businesses, Forever Cocao is a second career move for Spaull who was a professional DJ before discovering the joys of exceptionally good chocolate when a friend who had travelled all across Peru brought some back for him to try.
Pablo Spaull’s Forever Cacao dark chocolate is really good in it’s plain 72% cacoa state, with an amazingly long finish. It also works really well with the minty, herbaceous and floral notes from the Welsh lavender. I wondered about his business and began to ask him some of the questions I often ask Canadian artisan food start-ups, the big ones being what’s your distribution, or what stores stock your product? I was surprised when Spaull explained that he sold most of his chocolate direct to consumers via the internet. And then I remembered all the delivery vans that come and go from the farm here.
How different would the good food revolution be in Canada if small, craft producers could reliably and cheaply ship directly to bigger markets? Is Canadian geography too big, and our population density too low for a direct model to work for small scale production? Or are we just not culturally attuned to buying things online? I look forward to asking some of the businesses we cover at GFR more about their direct businesses, or why they don’t… just as soon as I am back from my holiday!