Saturday, 27 October 2012

Food and Craft Markets - Still serving a purpose?

Farmers Markets in the UK were once a weekly event in the last century.  Personally, I can remember back to the 60's when Colchester had its weekly cattle market, Middleborough, at the bottom of North Hill.  The sights and sounds of that market left an indelible image on me even to this day. Now the animal pens have been replaced by car parks and flats. 'Progress' marches on without sentiment.  Whilst Colchester market has moved on to different locations over the years and changed its offer radically, it is still taking place and attracting visitors to Colchester, contributing to the local economy. 


In these times of Double Dip recession, Quantitative Easing and Euro melt down it is not surprising that the UK high street has become a 'victim'. Unemployment is high, opportunities for jobs are scarce and people are not able to make ends meet, having to resort to hand outs from the Red Cross. Traditional local shops including butchers, Post Offices, and greengrocers have gradually been erased and replaced with well, err... nothing. What does that mean for a community?  Ok, I can get in my car and cruise the 20 miles to my nearest supermarket. What is the fate of those with little or no access to local transport living in rural areas. 

Buying local food and crafts locally serves a number of purposes. It provides a valuable income stream for farmers; saves on 'food miles'; an education for everyone; employment and a valuable sense of community. 


Essex Life Food Producer of the Year 2012
In Essex, there are two markets worthy of a mention that have both gone from strength to strength each with their own separate identity. One, Great Garnetts, is well established, attracting regular customers from in and around the Barnston area of Essex.  The other is a relatively new, up and coming, 'food and craft market' found in Little Waltham. 


Katy's Kitchen Delights!

Great Garnetts - If you've not been to Great Garnetts before I assure you that it is well worth a visit. During the week it is a traditional farm rearing 2,000 prize winning piggies for bacon and delicious sausages that have won numerous Taste Awards and recently Jonathan and Julie were voted Essex Life Food Producer of the year 2012! This is a traditional farmers market in the true sense of the word. Providing education for the young and not so young, an opportunity to catch up with friends and family and also to buy brilliant local produce including chocolate by me, honey, smoked salmon, pottery by Linda Lukin and much, much more. Their next market is perhaps one of the biggest as customers come from far and wide to order their turkeys in readiness for the festive season. This all takes place on Saturday 10th November.


Brick House Farm Produce
Little Waltham - In contrast to Great Garnetts we have the aptly named Little Waltham, a smaller, food and craft market which has been running for many years in various guises but now under new management has recently moved to a new venue. What it might lack in 'farmyard' atmosphere and size, is made up by the sheer enthusiasm of the stall holders and villagers who participate and attend this monthly event. 

There are as many as 30 stalls providing a range of handmade crafts to locally grown fruit and veg. Neil of Brick House Farm Produce, is just one of the many stall holders providing handmade jams and chutneys. Neil says, "Using traditional methods, we make small batches using seasonal fruit sourced from local apple and pear orchards, our own hedgerows and a number of local back gardens; we are always on the lookout for old or unusual fruit trees, as well as gardeners or ramblers looking for a part time job or that are happy to trade produce for fruit picked.  We aim to produce good quality preserves full of fruit and flavour, but nothing else; apart from the fruit we only use spices and sugar or vinegar as a preservative". 

Local markets encourage enterprising people to set up their own full time businesses. Take Kerry and Martin for instance. Rocket and Rhubarb was born in January 2010 with a ½ acre meadow full of grass, weeds, and not much else.  Armed with only our garden tools, a passion for growing vegetables and a huge amount of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, we have developed our little piece of land into a small holding growing a variety of seasonal produce.

Rocket and Rhubarb -Veg Box Scheme
Kerry says, "All our produce is grown using organic methods; we only use organic composts, feeds, natural pest controls and guarantee that absolutely no pesticides or artificial growth enhancers have been used on our crops".

They introduced a veg box scheme in September 2010 starting with only a handful of customers.  This innovative idea has developed and they're delighted that it has really taken off. They are now delivering to over 60 customers from Chelmsford to Bishops Stortford, Witham to Galleywood and everywhere in between. The business continues to go from strength to strength even in this difficult English climate.

The Lt Waltham Food & Craft Market takes place on the first Saturday every month (except January and August) and is open from 10 am to 1 pm with ample FREE parking behind the hall, disabled access, toilets and of course FREE ENTRY! 

Local markets have their place and like high street businesses they have their ups and downs. They've been around for centuries and I imagine they will continue for many more but, not without support from local people, councils and farmers alike.  Local markets are more than just about artisan food or that piece of pottery you fancy, they are about community and supporting local economies. 

If you're interested in becoming a stall holder or perhaps thinking of starting up your own market then you should visit these useful sites for further information: Stallinder or FARMA or visit some of the top markets in the UK at Visit Britain. You may also be interested in Slow Food.

Posted by Richard.