by Hanna Prince
Thanks to a brand new extension, Rushfields Farm Shop is gearing up to celebrate its best Christmas yet. Hanna Prince paid them a visit to see the exciting new developments for herself
There’s an aura of festive excitement around Rushfields Farm Shop. Scrumptiously sweet Christmas treats fill the shelves and the Plant Centre next door is stocking up on live Christmas trees. The wholesome scent of homemade pies wafts from the new, fairylight-hung extension and hangs in the cold air.
On the day of my visit, the extension has only just opened to the public. It’s a stunning space – oak- framed with high ceilings and a spacious kitchen out the back where professional chefs are crafting baked goods from locally-sourced ingredients. Mountains of fresh produce in rustic crates fill every corner with colour. “We were running out of room,” explains Rushfields’ co-founder Colin Langridge, when I meet him for tea in the airy Plant Centre café. “We needed a larger area to stock fresh, chilled and frozen goods, not to mention producing our own award-winning pies.”
Colin established Rushfields with his sister in 1984. What began as a small nursery and smallholding has since grown exponentially, with a café opened in the late 1990s and the farm shop added eight years ago. Food now accounts for around half of all sales, with home-produced pies and savoury goods an emerging speciality.
It’s easy to see why Rushfields’ pies have proved so popular. The Farm Shop’s display of baked goods – each crust cooked to golden perfection – looks mouth-wateringly delicious. The awards displayed proudly in the new extension make it clear that they taste just as good as they look. “Three years ago we were supreme champion at the British Pie Awards with our steak and kidney pie,” says Colin. “Then our steak, ale and stilton won supreme champion at a pie competition in Birmingham this spring. The steak and kidney also got two stars this year in the Great Taste Awards, which shows we’re doing the right things.”
Customers who have tasted the pies, he tells me, tend to return time and time again. There has also been an increase in demand from pie-lovers looking for a hot snack at lunchtime or on their way to work, which is why the extension will boast a dedicated hot takeaway pie and savoury section. Every pie will be made from locally- sourced meat products and baked on site by chefs in the new kitchen behind the shop. Three new members of staff – including a pie chef – have already been taken on to help deliver the new service, boosting employment in the local community.
“The extension was partly funded with money from the EU’s Rural Development Programme for England, which helps support the growth of rural businesses and rural economies,” explains co-director Adrian. “Creating jobs is the biggest aim of the programme, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Keeping It Local
Employing local people is just part of Rushfields’ ethos. The Farm Shop also stocks locally-sourced produce wherever possible, with over 50 small suppliers represented on the shelves. Local farmers contribute everything from fresh fruit and veg to the beef and lamb in those famous pies, while seasonal berries are grown in the on-site nursery.
“That’s what we’re all about and it’s what makes us successful and different,” explains Colin. “You read stories about supermarket chains losing custom, but last month we had an 11 per cent rise in food sales. We may be small, but the people who shop here like to know where their goods are coming from. All our food is traceable – and shoppers are beginning to care about that more and more.”
The same ethos extends to the Plant Centre café, where most of the dishes sold are based on ingredients from the farm shop. Sausages are made at the on-site butchers, pies are all baked in-house, and cakes and pastries come from local suppliers. On ‘fish Fridays’, the fish is fresh from the boats at Shoreham. Add a stunning, high-ceilinged dining area with rustic, flower-bedecked tables and industrial- style lighting, and it’s immediately obvious that this is no typical garden centre café.
Christmas Is Coming
At the time of my visit, the Café, Plant Centre and Farm Shop are all gearing up for the Christmas season. Fairy lights and hanging stars glitter on the ceilings, the menus are packed with warming festive favourites and the shelves overflow with gifts galore. Browsing the farm shop, I find luxury chocolate Santas, endless edible stocking fillers, perfect cheeseboard staples and cold meats for deli selections.
“We also do turkeys of course,” says Colin. “Although there has been a slight decline in their popularity – people seem to be opting for beef instead. We only take orders until 12th December, so it’s a good idea to get in there early.”
Customers stocking up on festive food at the farm shop should also take a look in at the Plant Centre, which does a lively trade in both real and artificial Christmas trees at this time of year. There are endless gifts on offer too, from wooden children’s toys to stocking fillers for all the family.
Many of the customers I see browsing these festive selections are in-the-know regulars. Colin grins greetings to several of them as we pass, and I wonder if I’ve stumbled on the reason for Rushfields’ success. Because despite the expansion, it still remains a friendly, family-run affair with Colin, his sister and their spouses at the helm. One thing’s for certain – I know where I’ll be doing my Christmas shopping this year.