Phil Haughton is the founder of The Better Food Company, whose mission is to “create a sustainable food chain,” by offering locally produced, organic food to people in the West Country. Better Food produce is sold through The Organic Supermarket in St Werburghs, Bristol, and Barley Wood Walled Garden in Wrington, North Somerset. Better Food also offer an organic fruit and vegetable box scheme.
Q: What’s the best thing about living in the South West?
A: I was brought up in a village in North Yorkshire – we’d be off playing in the woods all day, making dens and climbing trees, getting up to all sorts of mischief. I wanted to give my son Charlie the same opportunity and experience so I got out of the city. Now I live in a small village near Winford, just outside Bristol. I work bloody hard all week and I like to wake up in a place where I can go out with the dogs first thing in the morning and get my head straight. I love the connection to the environment and the peace and privacy.
A: There’s a fundamental lack of courage in this city. I see an inability to make decisions and actually follow them through. For example, here in St Werburghs there is a campaign by the locals to get rid of all the billboards – nobody wants them, the council back the campaign, but they can’t do anything about it because they can’t afford to tell people that their planning permission’s been taken away. I’d like to see more conviction to actually change things for the better.
The Better Food Company: what is its ethos and why is it “better”?
A: The Better Food Company is about connection and community – that’s the real core and the nerve centre of everything that this company stands for. It’s about building communities, making relationships, and celebrating food.
We’re about informing and educating: getting our suppliers to do tastings in the shop and share how they farm with our customers; sending our customers newsletters full of recipes and news, and views around food issues. All that kind of personal thread is vital – if that’s missing something changes within the soul of the food as far as I’m concerned.
What drives you mad?
A: Ha, the human race! I hate the apathy, the preparedness to accept the status quo without realising what that means for tomorrow. The amount of information that is flooding out every single day about the looming global catastrophe – we can all see it, we all know it and yet we have this weird thing called the human condition which means that we’re not going to do anything about it. It drives me insane.
I have a lot of frustration and fury at the human race, but conversely, I also enjoy the curiosity of it all in a voyeuristic way – looking at the human race and thinking “Who are we and why do we do this? And isn’t it fascinating?”. Ultimately, there’s no point being angry about it because that is the human condition, that is who we are and I’m a part of that as well – we all are, whether we like it or not.
How do you relax?
A: Right now I don’t, but I’m trying to address that. I go for a run sometimes and I find it very therapeutic working in my garden – I’m doing some landscaping and building walls and the whole pace will change then.
What is your biggest acheivement?
A: Moving to the house that I now live in now. It was an auction house wreck when we bought it but it was just one of those opportunities you have to take – I knew that this was going to be the house I live in for the rest of my life.
What’s the last cultural event you enjoyed?
A: The History Boys – the film. It was great – some people really slated it, but I loved its simplicity and its language.
What’s your favourite book?
A: Well two that spring to mind are ‘On The Black Hill’ by Bruce Chatwin and ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbons. I think it was the sense of the rural life and the sense of the soul involved in that – my slightly romanticised picture of it all probably.
What skills do you wish you had?
A: I want to be able to fly! About eight years ago I kept having these dreams where I was flying and I loved them, but I’ve still not got round to making it a reality. I want to do hang-gliding or paragliding or any kind of gliding!
What gets you into trouble?
A: My impatience, my anger and my ‘speak now, think later’ tendencies.
What’s your greatest fear?
A: I’m a complete stress-monger these days about not having enough time to get everything done. I suppose my greatest horror is ‘Why am I doing this?’. There isn’t a business in Bristol based around food and community which is doing as much as we are, being as radical as we are, or pushing the boundaries as much as we are. But the appreciation of that in terms of demand for our product is really not there. So much organic food is flown in from abroad – and people are all over it, saying how marvellous it is without thinking of the air miles and the damage it does. Such a load of bollocks!
What has life taught you?
A: Two things. Firstly, to never forget that you have choices. There are moments in life when you feel really stuck and think ‘that’s all there is, how can I possibly do anything else?’, but if you can stop for a moment and think, you’ll find there’s always a way to step sideways.
Secondly, to realise the importance of play and to never stop playing. I’ve always been a bit shy of letting go and just playing. But it’s so vital – whether it’s laughter, playing football, whatever – sometimes you have to let go of the seriousness.
The Better Food Company, The Bristol Proving House, Sevier Street, St Werburghs, Bristol. Open Mon-Fri 9am-7pm; Sat 9am-5pm Tel: 0117 935 1725, see www.betterfood.co.uk
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Barley Wood Walled Garden, Long Lane, Wrington, North Somerset – just off the A38, past the airport. Tel: 01934 863713. Opening hours: Sun-Thurs 10am-4.30pm; Fri, Sat 9.30am-9.30pm
Interview by Fiona McClymont
First published issue 47 (Winter 2006)
Disclaimer – details were correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.