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Author Sarah Kirton
Sarah Kirton
Created on Nov 22nd, 2022
Fact checked by Emma Vince

BigBarn 2023: Bringing Food, Producers, and Communities Together

Anthony Davison, Founder of BigBarn, was kind enough to elaborate on this project that strives to encourage people to reconnect with locally produced food and by doing so rediscover the true sense of community.

How did BigBarn come about and what service does it provide fundamentally?

I am a fifth-generation farmer and have always been horrified by the fact that farmers work so hard and earn so little. We were growing onions up in Norfolk back in the day, and my uncle came home with a bag of onions from the supermarket Tesco. This was when it hit home. We worked out the price of the onions per tonne, what we were getting and what the supermarket was getting. This is the problem with the food industry as a whole. On average, if you spend £1 on food in a supermarket the farmer gets about 9p.

I started BigBarn to try and encourage local trade and interaction. We’ve been building our local food map for about twenty-two years, and there are 9000 local suppliers on the map, and about 5000 visitors a day. Everyone on the map has a password to update their information and tell their story to win customers. The goal is to get the map on as many websites as possible to increase traffic and encourage the people already on the map to update their pages.

 This is our basic offer and what we’re trying to improve and increase. Over the years, we’ve found ways of adding more value, such as adding producers' videos, offers, an online shopping facility, and initiatives like Crop for the Shop where people can grow food to sell via local outlets on the map that have a carrot flag.

We’re trying to engage people to build communities around food. Over the years (particularly over lockdown) we’ve seen that there’s a real need for these communities in order to develop our own food security. Sharing knowledge and food puts us in a much better position in terms of healthy food and well-being and being part of the community.

Do you believe that there’s been a real shift in the food industry from customers moving away from supermarkets and toward local producers?

Yes, I do. Climate change and lockdown have contributed to this movement. Families had more time so people started cooking and baking rather than going out to eat or getting takeaways. Cooking with the kids also became a thing – people realized just how much money they saved by cooking their own food and rekindled the culture of home cooking and family quality time.

BigBarn is trying to build a more enlightened society that makes better food buying choices. By engaging with one's local producers you get in touch with what’s in season and what’s fresh…and you start asking questions about sustainability and healthier choices.

Can you tell us a little about your most relevant incentives such as Crop for the Shop?

Crop for the Shop was started back in 2010. This is where the carrot-flag icon comes into play on the BigBarn map. If you grow vegetables in your garden you can take them to those carrot flag shops on the map and they’ll sell them for you. We think this is a great way for shops to get local produce, and to encourage customers to grow vegetables and perhaps swap them for something else. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

We then introduced this system to a school in Leicester. The kids took what they grew to the local shop and we took them through the entire supply chain to help them understand how the food industry works. Not only did they learn the system, but they also tasted the food that had grown themselves. I think this is a major contributor to changing people's attitudes towards food and eating.

Our latest incentive has been going into schools and helping them identify the barriers of how to become a foodie school. We’ve made videos on how to overcome each individual barrier – gained input from the Head/teachers/kids, what to grow, lack of space, funding, etc... 

If we can get the next generation knowledgeable and enthused about food and teach them to make the correct buying choices, we’re taking a huge step in the right direction. They’re our biggest influencers and I believe this can totally revolutionize the food industry. In addition, there are huge benefits to the schools in terms of education for the kids – bringing in practical skills over academics, for example.

My vision for the near future is for every school to have a little food market every Friday and for each school to feature on the BigBarn map. Others can start bringing their produce and this creates a community around food. If someone is great at baking bread, for example, they can teach others, and eventually, this knowledge sharing leads to a real sense of community. The knowledge flow and self-sufficiency in turn are great for our food security.

How can we support BigBarn?

Tell as many people as possible about what we do. We have 9000 businesses on the map. If they updated their pages more regularly, they would get a lot more out of our services – they just don’t realize it. There are many websites out there that would benefit from being on our map. People need to learn how to use BigBarn to their advantage.

How do you see the future of the food industry and BigBarn’s role within?

As a Community Interest Company, I would like to see our communities of producers, customers, and partners take over the map development of community building initiatives. Perhaps I can step back and offer help with strategy and technology. We want to empower everyone to make big changes to a very broken food industry. The more change, the better!

Want to find out more about BigBarn, visit https://www.bigbarn.co.uk/ or follow on https://www.instagram.com/bigbarncic/

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