As consumers become increasingly discerning about what they eat, worrying about “food miles”, excessive packaging and the health benefits of organic and locally grown produce, farmers’ markets – once a novelty – have become a destination of choice.
There are now more than 500 certified markets across the country and the best of them, according to a survey by Country Life magazine, is in Edinburgh.
Ever since the first farmers’ market opened in Bath in 1997, the demand from an increasing environmentally aware public has seen the concept take off across the country. Today, more than £166m a year is being spent on fresh, locally prepared produce at markets up and down the UK. Originally set up to provide an outlet for farmers, growers or producers from local areas to sell their own produce direct to consumers the markets have now become fashionable places to shop.
Typically, a market runs for about five hours at the weekend, weekly or monthly depending on the demand. But, as their popularity grows, more are being created on an almost daily basis.
“Local food is attracting more interest than it has for a generation and is an issue increasingly at the centre of everyone’s thinking,” said Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life magazine, which launched a competition to find Britain’s favourite farmers’ market.
The magazine, which has previously run competitions to find England’s favourite village and England’s favourite market town, drew up a shortlist of 18 outstanding markets across England, Scotland and Wales.
The 18 semi-finalists comprised three farmers’ markets from each of six regions: East of England, the Midlands, Scotland and the North, the South-west, the South-east and Wales and the public then voted for their favourite market town. These votes determined the finalists, which included Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, Moseley, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Tavistock, Devon, Deddington, Oxfordshire and Chepstow, Wales.
The judges included celebrated high-profile Clarissa Dickson-Wright, Michelin-starred chef Shaun Hill, Mark Hix who oversees celebrated London restaurants Le Caprice and The Ivy, TV chef John Burton Race, Lady Cranbrook, a regional food advocate for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and the food critic Tom Parker Bowles.
“The competition was certainly strong, but Edinburgh was named Britain’s favourite farmers’ market because it really represents the future of farmers’ markets in Britain,” said Ms Dickson-Wright, formerly one half of the Two Fat Ladies cookery show.
“All produce is sourced from within a 50 mile radius – quite some feat for a capital city – and includes traditional farmers’ market fare, as well as specialist products and services such as the infamous Porridge Bar.”
The market opened in 2000 and is held every Saturday, attracting about 6,000 people a week. It adds some £1.16m to the rural economy and £800,000 to the city centre’s economy each year.
The six markets on the shortlist
Huntingdon farmers’ market was established in April 2003 and caters almost exclusively for food producers working within a 30-mile radius
Moseley market in Birmingham was set up by volunteers and has been running for the past four years
Edinburgh market is home to abbout 65 local producers providing, along with the usual fare, game and venison, wild boar, ostrich and water buffalo
Six years after a pilot project was held in the Devon town, Tavistock market is now held twice a month. Shoppers are usually serenaded with a jazz band, harpist or silver band
The Saturday market, which ran for centuries in this Oxfordshire town until it ceased in 1830, was revived in 2001
One of three farmers’ markets in Wales, Chepstow was conceived in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Article by Paul Kelbie for The Independent
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