Northern Ireland’s first Monitor Farm has opened a newly refurbished farm shop and tea room following a £200,000 investment, supported by Ulster Bank.
Meadow Farm, owned by Downpatrick farmer Richard Orr and his father Jackie, first opened its farm shop in 1998 along the main Belfast to Downpatrick route where its own produce was sold direct to consumers.
Monitor farms are a specially recognised category of farm selected to share performance information and best practice around a nationwide network of host farms to improve food and quality standards.
As demand for Meadow Farm’s fresh produce steadily increased, Richard’s wife, Sharon, began selling homecooked foods and a growing selection of sweet treats and baked items.
In 2012, the family business opened its purpose-built farm shop and significantly scaled up its offering to add greater value to customers.
The new 2,000 sq. ft. Meadow Farm tea room officially opened at the end of November.
The investment created five new full-time jobs bringing the total number of people employed at Meadow Farm to ten.
In addition to the finance provided by Ulster Bank and reinvestment by the family business, Meadow Farm also received a £35,000 grant through the Rural Business Investment Scheme.
The grant funding, earmarked for investments in the creation and development of non-agricultural micro and small business activities, will support Meadow Farm in the development of its tea room which will provide a relaxed county living atmosphere and champion the use of local produce in its food offering which spans breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.
Derick Wilson, Business Development Manager at Ulster Bank, says: “Ulster Bank is very pleased to support the Orr family as they continue to build upon the solid foundation their family business has cemented over the past 20 years in the local Downpatrick area. Meadow Farm is a longstanding customer with us and over that time we have seen the business grow and diversify. Richard understands the importance of reinvesting to continue to secure a more sustainable future for the business. This latest investment is steering the business in a new direction, one that adds fresh revenue streams to supplement the income generated from arable farming.”
Richard Orr explains how the investment in the tea room is expected to produce a windfall for the adjacent farm shop.
“Our produce is seasonal and generally the farm shop was restricted to opening just two days per week as a way to keep associated running costs down. The investment in the tea room means we’ll have the staff and resources on site to keep the farm shop open up to five days per week. We’re anticipating this will result in rapid growth in sales of our own produce as well as that of other local artisan producers we hold stock of as we drive increased footfall to the site.”
He continues: “The majority of our customers, around 80 per cent, are retired. One of the reasons we decided to build our tea room was in direct response to the needs of these customers who were calling for a space of this kind to meet and recharge.”
“There is opportunity for young entrepreneurs to make their mark on the agri sector,” Richard remarked.
“The face of traditional farming in Northern Ireland is changing,” he says.
“We’re seeing younger farmers take the reins of family enterprises across the north, but there is a massive opportunity for more to become involved as our older farmers reach retirement age.”
Despite the opportunity that exists Richard believes more support is needed to encourage a younger generation to consider farming as a viable future, citing high operational costs as one of the biggest barriers to attracting talent.
In April, Meadow Farm was announced as the first farm in Northern Ireland to be selected as a Monitor Farm.
Part of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Farm Excellence Programme, the three-year Monitor Farms project is farmer-led and farmer-driven. It is designed to distribute knowledge to others in the agri sector about new ideas, developments and research.