We quite often have holiday makers and local residents leaning over the gate, or talking to us at other events, and they ask when/if we are open for visitors. It must be about eighteen months since we last opened the shop because first of all we were building the new barn, then the old barn was being converted and of course it was difficult, if not dangerous, to have would be visitors on site.
Now it is all over bar the shouting (and lots of tidying up) and we are ready to go again. We still need time to look after the alpacas and the land on our small holding so we have decided to open the farm for a few hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the holiday season. We will also be open at weekends when available.
We have set up a picnic area in the top paddock, which is nearest the road, and the paddock on the other side of the track will be a showcase for some of the alpacas and sheep. This will mean that visitors can see them, photograph them, and generally admire them without the bio-security risks which arise when people walk on the land and will also safeguard the children from dangerous farm machinery. Mike loves his toys but they are for big boys only!!
As the farm gates are on one of the main access roads to the coast, particularly Lyme Regis, we are also hoping that we will have some passing trade from tourists.
My clever friend, Sue, has made a very good job of re-using two of our old A boards to make signs. She tells me that the less writing there is the better and so has drawn a steaming cuppa to indicate that we are offering refreshments!! See photo!!
I arranged a meeting with a lady from the Environmental Health Dept and she answered a few questions I had and gave me some sound advice. She also agreed that as a temporary measure our caravan would make an acceptable mini-catering kitchen. It is always clean but has now had an extra deep clean. Colour coded chopping boards, lots of anti-bacterial spray, and careful refrigeration are in place.
Prior to building works we always had a picnic area near the shop and also sold Moore's Biscuits and flapjacks which are famous for their taste and quality, and are based just a few miles from here. These together with packets of sweets, posh crisps, fresh fruit , chilled drinks and home made cake are available on a self service basis, whilst I will prepare sandwiches made to order from our sandwich menu!
Wherever possible I have sourced quality local ingredients. As we are a few yards from the Somerset/Devon border we have access to many excellent suppliers in the South West. The ham is from Childhay Manor Farm in Somerset, the Cheese is Lye Croft Farm (where my cousin-in-law holds a key post),our own free range egg mayonaise, and the bread is baked at a local bakery. Oh and the butter is also from the West Country. Only the houmous for vegetarian Sandwiches is from a well known store.
As well as chairs and tables we have a blanket box with throws and rugs so the purists can actually sit on the ground and do proper picnicing!!
I opened for the first time on Tuesday, and as predicted, Mike was my only customer. He had to pretend to be a real customer and it was very helpful as a dry run. Several lessons were learnt - such as don't forget the sugar - how do we serve the milk to go in the hot drinks - don't try and cut sandwiches on a paper plate and more.
On Thursday we invited our neighbours from across the road to come and sample what we had to offer. They are definitely ahead in the hospitality stakes, so it was nice to offer them something in return. The other neighbours have just moved in so it was good to meet them. We used them as a focus group (as they say in The Apprentice) and they approved of the set up and the service. The only missing ingredient now is footfall with real customers. Fingers crossed that the village newsletter will give us a bit of local trade and we have another advert coming out towards the end of the month in a free magazine. Let's hope the seats will be full for the photos next time.
The good news is the weather is good and the school holidays are close!!