mind expansion

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Beans from Brazil, two chickens for a fiver, organic free range hand-knitted eggs, Egyptian strawberries in Fairtrade chocolate for Valentine?s day. Why is it that our food choices seems to get more and more difficult? What we eat and where we shop has never been more talked about – helped along by by the likes of Jamie, Hugh and Gordon and a large dollop of obesity.

Closer to home the debate has been simmering about a new supermarket chain coming to the Island. Global retail giant Tesco has been suggested. More stores would mean better competition and lower prices, we?re told. The States appear to support this notion, so they asked people if they wanted cheaper food and more choice. As long as there are bears and woods we know the answer to this. These are important questions, but life, as we know, is more complicated. Money off our weekly staples sounds very appealing but where would this food come from and where would the profits go? Not here.

Let?s look at the expansion of Farm Shops on the Island in the last 5 years, ranging from the side-of-the-road honesty boxes (long may they last) right up to those shops on farms that sell almost anything. These are Jersey farmers who have diversified, either by going organic, like Vermont Farm, creating delicious cheeses and milk, like Classic Farm or by growing into one-stop shops selling bread, meat, fish alongside fruit, vegetables, herbs and interesting grocery bits, like Holme Grown and Rondel?s.

Richard Rondel has been running his farm shop in St John since April 05, and turned over an impressive £1m in the first full year of trading. Keen to build on his success and create something more, he visited farm shops in Daylesford in Gloucestershire and Chatsworth, on the Duke of Devonshire?s estate, to see how their model could be brought to Jersey. It is a philosophy of sustainability, working with local growers, suppliers and smaller independent companies, here and in the UK, to create a friendly shopping experience.

Working in consultation with architect Saskia Lee and conservation expert, Aaron Le Couteur, Richard has a holistic vision to create a new site on the field in front of his farm. Saskia has drawn up plans of a light, organic structure made of timber, stone, slate, glass and granite. One that is human in scale rather than a slab of a shed or the lymeswold vernacular favoured by supermarket chains. She says, ?I wanted to create a building that sits as peacefully in the environment as possible. Some elevations have been designed to be as transparent as possible, bringing down the barriers between ?inside and outside? ?. Energy efficiency and using eco products in the build have also been important considerations. Aaron has recommended that nesting boxes for barn owls and house martins, orchards of native trees and a wild flower meadow be introduced to the new site to encourage wildlife.

Richard is committed to pursuing education facilities for children and adults through schemes such as school allotments in the surrounding fields, an exhibition and seminar space in the new building and cameras in the nesting boxes. Rondel?s would be more than somewhere to pop in and buy supper, it would be a pleasing shopping environment that involved the community in the seasons and the countryside.

Last month, Jersey Chamber of Commerce commissioned Prof Sparks from the Institute of Retail Studies to analyse the viability of introducing a third supermarket. His recommendation was overwhelmingly against the proposal on all counts, adding that a major new operator, which may well develop a monopoly position (Tesco have 28% of the UK market), would end up diminishing choice for local consumers.

Rondel?s new building hasn?t yet received planning consent. Meanwhile the Waterfont is being cleared. Which way do we want to go in Jersey? We have local shops and markets that are the envy of towns and cities in the UK, desperate to reverse 80s and 90s retail policy that favoured out-of-town shopping. Do we want local businesses to grow and flourish, thereby increasing competition and sustainability, or do we want cheaper food whatever the cost? Do we want to push our trolleys down endless lonely supermarket aisles or chat to the butcher about his homemade sausages? The questions aren?t straightforward but the answer is up to each of us.