A FARM shop in North Yorkshire has earned a top national award for the quality of its local food.

Ainsty Farms Shop in Green Hammerton, between York and Harrogate, has won the Best Local Food category in the Rural Retailers Awards organised by the Countryside Alliance - a competition which attracts 2,500 nominations.

The victory came after the shop, started by farmers Stuart and Lily Beaton in 2001, was shortlisted to the final 14 in the Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire region, representing England.

Now the Beatons will collect their award from Hilary Benn, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, at the House of Lords on February 6, and go on to compete against winners from Scotland and Wales.

The couple began the venture in the aftermath of two disasters - one in 2000, when the River Wharfe flooded a large area of their farm, and the other the following year, when the foot and mouth restrictions bit deeply into their earnings.

Stuart had already involved himself in a co-operative with six other farmers, directly selling their meat and produce to customers at farmers' markets.

But he decided to relinquish his tenant farm to concentrate wholly on a new shop relying on local produce, with partner Sam Blacker.

It surfed the growing wave of public preference for eating food that has travelled the shortest distance from earth to fork, expanding turnover at 25 per cent every year.

But since the move two years ago to larger premises up the road on the A59, turnover has almost doubled.

Now the shop, which reached the finals of The Press Retailer Of The Year in 2003, has five full-time staff, a self-employed baker and his daughter, and four part-time staff at weekends to cope with the burgeoning demand.

Mr Blacker retired in September.

An "absolutely thrilled" Lily said: "We are so proud of ourselves. What arose because of a bad situation has now become something quite glorious."

Jeremy Bates, of the Countryside Alliance, said: "The produce is first class - fresh, local and genuine, from a shop set up to serve the community after foot and mouth and flooding devastated the area."

He said the judges were also impressed with the monthly cookery demonstrations staged there by Knaresborough chef Danny Cartwright, and with the shop's "honest and very visible" support of local producers, plus the loyalty of local customers.

Lily said: "As soon as we get this very busy Christmas out of the way we'll crack open the Champagne."

Another North Yorkshire business which was honoured was Adventure Toys of Northallerton which clinched the Best Diversification category.

Over the past 18 years, the business has grown from a small outside display and shop in a converted cowshed, to one of the largest independents in the country.