Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Yesterday afternoon's Food Programme was about Farmers' Markets - amazingly, despite being a celebration of ten years of Farmers Markets it was an intelligent programme, not just an idealisation of the concept.
I actually have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Farmers' Markets. I love selling at them - the customers tend to be interested and chatty - but I have reservations about them being the answer for either the foodie consumer or the small producer.
There seems to be, to be honest, a big gap between the markets in Scotland and the majority of those in England (don't know about Wales or Ireland - Julia - did I read that your sister used to do markets????). To take a stall trading for 4 -5 hours in Edinburgh or Glasgow costs £70.50, add on petrol and any help you pay for and it means that to break even you need to sell about £200 worth of goods.
This means that unless you have a semi-industrial product with a guaranteed yield it is difficult to regularly attend markets. Everyone who grows their product has this problem - unless I have £300-400 worth flowers ready to pick on the Friday night there is no point in going, the salad, speciality veg and herb sellers are the same. The result is that the markets tend to have the same stalls no matter where you are in central Scotland - Caurnie Soaps, Ella Drinks, Inverawe smoked salmon. Now these are all good stalls selling fine products, but they are medium sized businesses selling to delis, health food stores and supermarkets, they are not the small scale farmer/producers that the markets were originally designed to support. The problem is that unfortunately these growing businesses are not really being joined by new ventures. There is not room at the moment for the Scottish equivalent of the French market trader with his couple of baskets of ceps or samphire.
This means that as a consumer the range of goods available at a Farmers Market is very limited - I did a quick poll round foodie friends and none shop any more at the markets, apart from Partick Farmers market "which has a good bread stall".
One of the questions raised by the Food Programme was whether the rules of a market over restrict the foods on offer, and whether would it be better to have food artisan made but from wider geographical area. I suppose this would in theory turn Partick Farmers market into something more akin to Borough Market. Should we in fact be encouraging people to do more of their weekly shop at a market - does there need to be bananas as well as carrots and swedes even though they cannot be grown commercially in the UK? Does it matter that many Farmers Markets are just a middle class thing? Should we be following Manhattan's lead in having Farmers markets in less affluent areas - should there be more funding available?
It was as I say, an intelligent programme that swam against the knee jerk reaction of "Farmers Markets" = "Good Thing".
I have one farmer friend who feels that, if the markets purport to help farmers, then he should be able to attend with any of his farm diversification be that vegetable boxes or bicycle maintenance.
Do people shop at farmers markets and do they find what they want there? What is more important, quality, choice or locality? The further you get into this food thing the more difficult it becomes.
I also hate buying my meat ready cut and shrink wrapped in plastic so that is 70% stalls ruled out.