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Sunday, December 5, 2021

The little shop that saved the great British farm

Despite the sign on their kitchen door – ‘Do you want to speak to the man in charge or the woman who knows what’s going on?’ – the Rickards are a balanced team. Sian used to work in accounts for a local company, so looks after the books, while Kevin comes up with many of the creative ideas, like the upcoming installation of a milk-vending machine (straight from the cows on site, pasteurised and into a tank for customers to fill up their own bottles) or using calving pods as a Santa’s Grotto, which they’ll do again this year. It’s their busiest period, given they also sell trees, wreaths and turkeys. Kevin’s dad plays Father Christmas, while Jacqui, Martin says, ‘makes an outstanding Mrs Christmas’.

Surely there are rows, with three generations, in-laws, siblings, friends, neighbours all working together like this? ‘Oh, yeah, plenty of those. Every single day,’ Kevin says. Sian smiles. ‘Big blow-ups. It’s just all agreeing on stuff. Like, which field are the sheep getting? Ben likes the sheep, we like the cows, Dad likes the chickens. So, there’s effing and blinding, but by the end of the day we’ve forgotten about it.’

The major snags they’ve hit have tended to come in the form of red tape. ‘Pretty much all of it has been planning,’ Kevin says. The council made them justify why their tiny farm shop was taking trade away from the local Spar, two miles away. ‘Ridiculous…’ comes the chorus from all present.

‘And the neighbours over there,’ Kevin says, nodding at some smart barn conversions, ‘they object to the traffic and noise, but it’s barely anything, even on a busy day.’ They should probably be grateful you don’t cash in by sticking a dozen houses somewhere, I say. ‘Exactly!’ Sue cries.

The rest of the village considers it a godsend. Even when lockdown restrictions started easing, people continued to come from far and wide and stop not just for groceries but company in the fresh air, too.

‘We had a customer come from America last week,’ Kevin says. ‘Her sister lived in Cardiff or something, and her husband had seen us on Facebook [where posts receive over 25,000 views] and sent her here to get venison.’

Giving something to the community was always the aim – and the ambition, even now that world domination seems possible, isn’t much bigger.

‘I’d quite like a café, serving some food and drink made here, and maybe a bit bigger shop, but that’s about it,’ Sian says. She shudders at the idea of a Castle Farm Shop on every high street.

Diversifying has meant both she and Sue can work on the family farm full-time, and once the milk-vending machine is up and running, Kevin will drop the bull semen and do the same. It’s secured the place for the future.

‘It’s hard to make a living out of 190 acres; you have to think about what you’re doing. But we’ve managed it,’ he says. ‘And it’s exciting, you know?’

Would you or have you set up a business with your family? Tell us about the experience in the comments section below.

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