|Ross Brimfield at The Veg Shed|
Shopping for food in the otherwise lovely cathedral city of Winchester is sorry experience. Three big supermarkets - Waitrose, Sainbury's and Tesco crouch on the extremities of the city like leeches sucking shoppers into their vast car parks - and forcing smaller specialist food shops to close. Incredibly, there are no butchers and no fishmongers left in this ancient city of 200,000, once the capital of England (well, Wessex) due mainly to our own weak-minded shopping habits, compounded by the cunning of the supermarkets who offer seemingly irresistible prices on everyday goods like lavatory paper and pet food. And for those trinkets we ignore the high prices we pay for imported vegetables and fruit and the factory-farmed chicken.
Not only do the supermarkets squeeze the last drop of profit out of all but the largest and best capitalised agribusinesses, but their profits are siphoned out of the area and contribute little or nothing to the wellbeing of city and its citizens, unlike small family-owned shops. And of course they avoiding paying as much tax as they can through transfer pricing, captive insurance companies, group relief and offshore trusts and make billions - while in a once charming and friendly city like Winchester (where as a schoolboy I used to be greeted personally by the bank manager), one is left talking to bored check-out staff rather than being known by name by knowledgeable shopkeepers who's defining advantage is service, not price.
There are signs of life however, outside the massive car-parks and ugly approach roads of the supermarkets. The Farmer's Market every fourth Sunday is hugely popular and carries interesting stock from small producers. And The Good Life, in Headbourne Worthy is a brave attempt at a farm shop, though it carries no fish. And, best of all, The Veg Shed run almost singlehandedly by Ross Brimfield, sells high quality and cheap vegetable, fruit and eggs from a wooden shack in two pub car parks three days a week and makes deliveries on the others. And he knows all his customers by name.