Championing local food in Sussex

Avatar for Elyssa Campbell-Barr
By Elyssa Campbell-Barr

The Sussex Peasant is an innovative mobile farm shop which aims to close the gap between the farmer and the consumer. By sourcing locally and seasonally, they are bringing low-carbon local produce from environmentally conscious growers to markets in Brighton, Hove and the surrounding communities.

 

‘We’ve become like a social glue, bringing a wonderful mix of people together to meet, socialise and talk about real food,’ says Ed Johnstone, owner of mobile farm shop The Sussex Peasant.

Ed founded the business four years ago, with the aim of making it easier for people to buy local produce. He’d been shocked to discover how little of the food grown in South East England is actually eaten there, and a spell living in Argentina had shown him a different way of life, where communities have close connections with local farms.

Inspired, he set out to achieve something similar in Sussex. From tiny beginnings – with just one converted horsebox, selling sustainably produced food from Sussex farmers and growers to customers in Brighton and Hove – The Sussex Peasant now has four mobile shops and 11 staff, serving 11 communities and with ambitious plans to reach even more.

Two men serving at a mobile farm shop
The Sussex Peasant founder Ed Johnstone (left) with business associate George Shaw | The Sussex Peasant

As the business has grown, Ed has noticed consumers wanting more transparency around the food they eat and becoming increasingly anxious about the production practices of mainstream food retailers. The events of 2020 compounded people’s concerns.

‘With the pandemic happening at the same time as Brexit, there was new awareness of danger to global supply chains, and a greater respect for local producers,’ he says. ‘Consumers became more interested in where their food was coming from, and realised how important it was to support the local economy.’

'Seventy pence of every pound spent with us goes direct to our producers - our customers know they’re investing in local producers'

‘We’re totally transparent about what we do. Seventy pence of every pound spent with us goes direct to our producers; we keep the other 30p to run our operation. Our customers know they’re investing in local producers and the jobs we’ve created.’

While the pandemic brought challenges, it also brought opportunities. ‘Our mobile shops provided an opportunity for people to have a break from the stresses of work or not being able to see people. Also, more people were working from home, so could nip out to our trucks,’ says Ed. ‘We attracted a new customer base, and we’re delighted that a lot of those people have carried on shopping with us.’

Autumn produce on display at a farm shop
Autumn’s harvest always makes for a colourful display | The Sussex Peasant

During lockdown, Ed and his team took groceries direct to the doors of elderly and vulnerable people. ‘To see an idea I had four years ago having a real impact in the local area is something I’m immensely proud of,’ he reflects. ‘At first I was just driven to bring local produce to communities. Now, I feel we’ve become a valuable community asset.’

Last year his company was a Silver Award winner in the ‘Connecting People and the Countryside’ category of the CPRE Sussex Countryside Awards, with the citation noting it’s role in supporting ‘a cooperative of 18 local producers supplying to people who would otherwise probably buy their fresh produce at a large supermarket.’

'Ed’s belief is that to link farming and consuming underpins key values of society, health and life.'
Lady Egremont

‘We at CPRE Sussex are very excited to see the success of The Sussex Peasant,’ says Lady Egremont, chair of the judging panel. ‘Ed’s belief is that to link farming and consuming underpins key values of society, health and life. This seems to me to be exactly the sort of enterprise that CPRE should support.’

This article was originally published in CPRE’s award-winning magazine, Countryside Voices. You’ll have Countryside Voices sent to your door three times a year, as well as access to other benefits including discounts on attraction visits and countryside kit from major high street stores when you join as a CPRE member. Join us now.

 

Apple sand eggs on display at a farm shop
The ethos of The Sussex Peasant is to help people access fresh local produce The Sussex Peasant

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