With the rise of the supermarkets' power and the negative press which has resulted, the shopping trolley has never been so political.

Small retailers across Sussex are benefiting from the backlash. Richard Gurner looks at the farm shops revolution.

Over the past five years the number of farm shops in Britain has increased by 15 per cent to roughly 4,000, according to Farma, the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association.

Growing consumer concern about the environment, food production methods, the commercial might of the supermarkets and the impact a superstore can have on a local high street, mean more people are looking for alternative outlets at which to do their weekly shopping.

Together with farmers' markets, Farma says that farm shops have annual sales of more than £2 billion. With the grocery sector worth a whopping £123 billion, that may not seem a great deal but the growth of the direct sales produce market, which includes pick-your-own, shows people are willing to buy local goods from local shops run by local people.

Farma's research shows that shoppers are increasingly turning to farm outlets, at the expense of delicatessens and convenience stores.

Rita Exner, secretary of Farma, said: "More and more consumers would like to see their food sourced locally. The number of farm shops have been growing over the past few years and we estimate about 100 shops open every year. It's not a huge number but a farm shop opening does bring good quality and locally sourced food to the community.

"We have done work with YouGov (market research group) over the past three years. We asked consumers if they would like to buy local produce and more than 90 per cent said they would. Thirty per cent surveyed said they were already buying from farm shops, although that does not represent all their shopping.

"The farm shops that offer meat to their customers have been really successful. People have reacted to the stories in the media of how animals are reared. They like to know the animals are treated well, with the cows grazing in the fields. I think people appreciate that respect for the animals when they are buying from farm shops."

More than three years ago Sussex Enterprise, the chamber of trade, set up A Taste of Sussex to support Sussex sellers and producers. Using the umbrella brand of the blue butterfly it helps suppliers build relationships with sellers.

Rural affairs manager at Sussex Enterprise John Evans said: "The purpose of A Taste of Sussex is to support the local producers by giving them marketing advice and to help them get their products to markets, including supermarkets.

But there has been a big upsurge in the number of farm shops that have been opening.

There are probably 100 farm shops across East and West Sussex."

  • Reaping the benefits after moo-ving time

David Cross, 60, has worked Mile Oak Farm, Mile Oak Road, Portslade, all his life but in 2003 he had to sell his dairy cows after being priced out of the milk market.

Reluctant to make any of his staff redundant he set about using the land for a farm shop.

Four years later and the business has more than made up for the loss in dairy production.

Mr Cross said: "We sold the herd in March 2003 and started this. We just started selling a bit of horse food for a few people and it's just gone from there. The way things were, the cows were losing money.

"You have got to keep trying new things but we don't want to end up too big."

The shop now sells fresh fruit and veg, eggs, traditionally made jam and honey, Gran Stead ginger wine, which is produced on site, and ice cream made in Sussex.

Since last year the shop has sold meat reared at the farm which is extremely popular with customers.

Mr Cross said: "It has really picked up since Christmas. We tend to run right out of meat before the next cow is ready to come back from hanging."

The meat sold at the shop is sent to Woodmancote for slaughter, ensuring minimum food miles, and is prepared using the traditional time of three weeks to hang.

As a result its colour is darker than supermarket meat and the taste stronger.

Along with a variety of beef cuts, customers can also try burgers and sausages.

Sam Wooler, 26, has worked at the farm shop for the past year.

She said: "When I first started here it was pretty empty but now look, it's full.

"We have got a lot of local people coming in and asking, Can we get this and that?' so we always try and help them as much as we can.

"Families also love coming here to see the donkeys. We do a storming trade in carrots."

  • Joint effort rewarded

Richard Walters and his wife Ann were on the verge of closing The Village Store in Pound Lane, Mannings Heath, Horsham, as it could not compete with supermarkets.

Eighteen months later the business has been turned around after it was converted into a farm shop and delicatessen.

The couple believed the conversion would enable the business to survive but could not afford the refurbishment themselves.

Villagers came to their rescue by giving the couple £20,000 for the work, which has helped takings soar by 50 per cent.

Richard, 54, said: "Since we reopened as a farm shop it has gone exceptionally well and is going from strength to strength.

"We changed the entire concept of the store and we are always looking to expand as much as we can with fresh items and we are still looking for new products from across Sussex.

"We can't source all of our products locally but where possible we certainly do to reduce our products' food miles.

"We keep away from the high-branded items as much as we can because people don't come to us for those products. They come to buy their fresh produce from us.

"Generally the whole concept of our business has been very acceptable to our customers."

Richard Webber, 65, of nearby Woodlands Walk, who donated money towards the revamp, said: "It's a great success story. So many shops have gone to the wall because of shops like mini-Tescos.

"People not only from Mannings Heath but outside the area come to buy products because they are that little bit special and not found on the supermarket shelves.

"The fresh fruit and vegetables are now reckoned by many customers to be better and fresher than from the supermarket."

  • Homegrown produce is a winning way

Sussex and the City in Meeting House Lane, Brighton, describes itself as a cross between a farm shop and a farmers' market and prides itself on its local produce.

Nothing in the shop comes from more than 50 miles away.

Owner Duncan Innis, 36, opened the shop last May. In January it was named Best Sussex Food Shop in the first Sussex Food and Drink Awards.

Mr Innis said: "I buy everything directly from the person who makes it or grows it. This brings the customer closer to the producer, guarantees freshness and if they have any feedback it can get back to the suppliers.

"It's not easy. People are interested in local food but I'm competing with the convenience stores and the supermarkets.

People can drive to the big supermarkets in their car and within an hour they have done their shopping.

"I believe that people are always interested in supporting the local economy but there has been a resurgence in local food and reducing your food miles and carbon footprint.

"People leave the shop surprised and fulfilled with a good feeling whether they bought something or not."

Should we snub the superstores and back our farm shops? Have your say, leave your comments below.