At Smallford Farm Shop, bright fresh fruit and veg are arranged in clean orderly ranks. Vibrant tomatoes on the vine, shiny peppers and firm aubergines in rich purples are arranged in wooden crates. I have to look twice at the unfamiliar yellow courgettes and baby cucumbers to make sure they are what I think they are. Fennel bulbs, asparagus bunches, butternut squash and shiny scarlet chillies add to the seasonal colours.

I daydream about ‘harvest time’ and my school days when we’d all be sitting cross-legged in assembly facing a huge display bean, soup and sweetcorn tins on the stage. We would listen to the headmistress’s inspirational speech explaining the importance of giving; that it is a time when we think about how food is grown on land and how crops are harvested.

Then there was Harvest Sunday, when our local church was richly decorated with baskets of seasonal fruits and flowers such as mauve hydrangeas, red amaryllis, chrysanthemums and bright berries decorating pumpkins. The vicar would remind us that it was a time to give thanks and share the abundance that we have in our own lives with those less fortunate.

I turn a corner and find myself standing in the middle of this long food hall. A richly varied eclectic range of good quality products from small quirky companies fills the rustic shelves. I immediately get that clean and spacious sense. There are echoes of Conran’s The Bluebird Supermarket in Chelsea as I remember it when it first opened about twenty years ago.

The shelving is filled with countless innovative and quite unfamiliar products such as packets of ‘chorizo thins and ‘duck fritons’ as a replacement to crisps. At the centre are a couple of tall rustic tables packed with seeded breads, oils and condiments. I pop a small milk and honey sourdough boule and a bottle of chilli, garlic and ginger rapeseed oil into my basket. I slowly pass the deli counter then take my time to look at the chutneys and preserves displayed beside a range of whole leaf blended teas. I add a box of ‘Earl Great’ tea with added gingko biloba and ginseng to my basket.

I bump into Simon the purchaser, who is beginning to put out the Christmas stock and has experience of working in Selfridges and other London Food halls over the years. I realise how much of his expertise has gone into merchandising and enhancing the store’s image, and of course, about the importance of customer service, but I think the most important ingredient in this job is having a passion for food!

Simon tells me about their organic produce and luxury products, “Food excites me,” he says. He enthuses about how their products are carefully selected and integrated to look attractive and inviting on the shelves.

“Consumers want variety," he says. "We can offer different products, but not too different!”

It is important to have an awareness of food trends and also to incorporate a certain degree of surprise.

“We have a wine tasting event coming up soon.” He smiles.

I see what he means, for instance I quite like ginger beer, but here they sell ‘spicy ginger beer’ so the customer can take a step beyond their usual choices. My daughter pops a cucumber selzer drink into our basket along with a bar of Venezuelan milk chocolate.

It’s time for lunch, so we take a seat in the café. The décor is minimal and daylight pours in through the huge windows.

We chat with Claudia, granddaughter to one of the founders. I discover that the owners are a Southern Italian family who set up fruit and veg nurseries in the1960s. They were hugely successful and eventually formed Glinwell greengrocers in the 1970s, supplying shops locally and all over London.

Claudia grew up with an understanding of the greengrocer business and enthuses about expanding into a farm shop where the company can now venture beyond fruit and veg. She enjoys serving her local community, getting to know her regulars and introducing them to new and unique products.

She says: “I gradually get to know what they like, can make suggestions and give them a better customer service by encouraging them to move beyond their usual purchases.”

I rarely order lasagne in restaurants as they’re often quite flat, runny, and have little to do with any big Italian mamma’s homemade lasagne, but as the owners are Italian, I dare to try it. It appears I have made the right decision. It’s utterly delicious and truly authentic! It has layers and height and the meaty tomato and bechamel sauces are thick and tasty. I love it! My daughter who has ordered potato, cauliflower and leek soup is ogling my lasagne with big puppy eyes; it is with great reluctance that I decide to share it.

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.