James and Catherine
With two small farm shops, a young family and a determination to stick to a strict self-imposed set of criteria, the owner of this established, award-winning business is one of a kind.
I first met Catherine Dampier in 2006 just before she and her husband James started their first farm shop in Ockley. It was hard not to be full of admiration from the start as Catherine spoke about an ethos that ticked so many boxes. The couple set out to support local suppliers from the outset: buying meat from welfare farms, growing their own produce to sell in Village Greens and employing local people. They were also determined to only choose and produce food that delivered on taste too.
Eight years on and James and Catherine have worked incredibly hard to make their dream a reality. It’s fantastic to see that they have stuck to their original ethos throughout, even though it has been a huge challenge at times.
They opened their first shop in Ockley, near Dorking, in 2007 much to the delight of the locals. On discovering that this wasn’t just another village shop, customers were and still are continuously delighted by new, never seen before products. An example of this is Dineke van den Bogerd of Crumbs of Capel an artisan baker of sourdough bread. Dineke got her first break with Village Greens and now supplies two other farm shops in Surrey.
Two years ago James and Catherine opened their second shop at Denbies Vineyard selling plants and food. The owners also let them have use of their walled vegetable garden. A large greenhouse provides space for starting off seedlings for the sister site in Ockley.
For those concerned about how far food travels, there is no need to worry at Village Greens. James and Catherine have joined a growing band of smallholders who produce stock for their own retail outlets. Salad leaves, green beans, courgettes, kale, kohl rabi and even fresh cut flowers are grown just across the road from the shop. Buy a bag if their salad leaves and there’ll be edible flowers, herbs and amaranth thrown in their too.
Village Greens also run a vegetable bag scheme for pick up or delivery as long as purchases are local. To supplement their own produce, they buy from other local producers such as Secrets in Milford and Nutbourne tomatoes in Sussex.
It doesn’t stop with vegetables and fruit. Before buying meat or poultry, the couple meet suppliers and check production methods are in keeping with their ethos that all should be raised and slaughtered humanely. For example, poultry is from Etherly Farm, down the road from the shop, where birds are raised in a free-range environment. Drive into the farm and you’ll see hens and ducks roaming freely.
James and Catherine are proud to tell customers that the majority of products come from within thirty mils of the shop and eighteen are based within ten miles. With exception of coffee and tea, this is an extraordinary achievement. Within that ten miles they source a wide range of diverse products including beef, lamb, chicken, sausages, wine, bread, milk and chocolates.
But the culinary journey doesn’t stop here. There are local cheeses on offer and Village Greens, of which the closest producer to the shop is Norbury Park Farm who produce Norbury Blue and Dirty Vicar from their own milk. From further afield comes Sussex Charmer and a selection from High Weald Organic Dairy in West Sussex, plus charcuterie produced at the Weald Smokery in East Sussex. Coffee, of course, we expect to be imported, but using Coffee Real (an ethical coffee business) means this box is also ticked.
Unlike other farm shops, there aren’t any big brands; instead there is a changing display of wonderful products that deliver on all counts. Expect tasters too. On my last visit I tried Silent Pool gin which was full flavoured, aromatic and strong. This helped to wash down the Chalk Hills Bakery lemon drizzle cake, so lemony, moist and dense, it was delightful.
Catherine and James are wonderful hosts and happy to share their vast product knowledge with visitors. For those travelling a distance and wanting to make a day of it, why not check the Village Greens website for dates of their food fairs? Both shops host them and it’s a great opportunity to sample lots of wonderful local products, meet the suppliers and support a growing community of talented artisan food producers.
Written by Shirlee Posner for Green Credentials
Shirlee Posner of Eat Surrey http://eatsurrey.co seeks and finds the best small food producers, restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops, publishing a weekly review on her website.