Farmers’ markets are an excellent opportunity for farmers to sell directly to the public. With no supermarkets in between, they receive a fair price for their produce. London Farmers’ Markets aim to teach visitors a little more about where their food comes from and allow communication between producer and consumer. Farmers’ markets increase incomes and keep some farms in business. We spoke to London Farmers Markets about what is on offer at the markets.
Tell us about yourself and your role.
We run 20 weekly farmers’ markets in London, in addition to finding new sites and new farmers and producers. Each market has its team of managers who look after the market on the day.
We make sure that the markets run smoothly, promote them, look after them and make sure as many local people as possible know about the resources on their doorstep.
How does a rustic farmers’ market fit into busy urban London?
Everyone needs to eat! We provide a source of food directly from farms. We Grow It, We Sell It has been the motto since 1999 and there’s no need to change it. We’re there every week, rain, sun or snow. Farmers markets work incredibly well in an urban setting. People love to know where their food comes from, they enjoy being on first-name terms with the people who have picked and grown their fruit and vegetables, packed their eggs, fish for their mackerel and so on. Every year at this time we run a Favourite Stall competition and some of the comments that come back are complimentary about the way their local farmers market has changed the way they eat. It’s fantastic to read them and pass them on to farmers and producers.
Where does the produce come from?
From within 100 miles of the M25. That may sound a long way, but we have farmers from Hertfordshire, Essex, Surrey and Kent as well as from Somerset and Lincolnshire. We open out the mileage to 150 if it’s a hard-to-find product.
Why do you think people come to these markets rather than just pop to the local supermarket?
Where would you prefer to shop? We rarely see kids having a tantrum at a farmer’s market. Mostly they love the opportunity to sample apple juice, find out where crabs come from, taste something different and help to buy ingredients for the week. And whatever message supermarkets may try to put across, someone who stacks shelves isn’t going to let you try the cheese they’ve made, know how their meat is raised, or what the best potato for mashing will be. And there’s always a choice of conventionally grown, organic and bio-dynamic produce. In addition to this, there will be less packaging, getting to know the people who produce your food, reduced food miles, supporting farmers directly, and enjoying the events we put on, from Punch and Judy to RHS plant shows. The British Retail Consortium found that every £10 spent at a farmers market is worth £25 to the local economy, compared with just £14 when the same amount is spent in a multiple supermarket.
Have you seen an increase in people visiting farmers’ markets in recent years? If so, why do you think that is?
New people move into areas and discover the market. More and more prefer to eat food they can trust. They love buying direct from farmers, meeting their friends and neighbours every week. A farmers market isn’t a chore, it’s a community event.
What can shoppers buy at these markets?
Anything that can be grown, fished or raised within our region. Everything from Japanese varieties of mushrooms, to Burford Brown eggs, local honey, game in season, unpasteurised milk, cream and cheese, fish and shellfish direct from fishermen, a huge range of fruit including hundreds of varieties of apples you’ll never find in supermarkets, game in season, freshly pressed juice, organic and free range meat and poultry and so much more. People who make pies, jams, soups etc use a majority of ingredients from within our region, so these products are also seasonal. We also support a number of fantastic London based artisan bakers, pasta makers and more. Home-made ice-cream using real fruit and local milk and cream in summer. Farm cured bacon rolls for breakfast. Produce is seasonal. Asparagus in April, broad beans in May, strawberries in June, plums and apples in August, sweetcorn in September, Jerusalem artichoke October, and so on.
Are any types of produce particularly popular at the moment? Any trends arising?
Unpasteurised milk. Demand is outstripping supply. Legally it can only be sold at farm gates and farmers markets and it’s a world away from supermarket milk.
Fresh fish is also very popular. At some markets customers will queue in order to be first in line and it can sell out extremely quickly. All of our fish comes direct from our day boat fishermen; you’ll often see them on the stall themselves, gutting and filleting and offering advice about how to cook or prepare fish.
Gluten free and vegan products are on the rise too.
Is it important to have markets like these in modern Britain?
We think so! I’m aware that in terms of sales, farmers markets are a minuscule part of the economy, but for the farmers and producers who sell at them, they are a lifeline. Farmers markets put millions back into the rural economy and keep farms going. They also keep money circulating in the urban local economy as people who come to shop at their local farmers market continue to shop in their neighbourhood. They’re a great community asset.
Whereabouts in London can people find London Farmers’ Markets?
All over, and we’re continuing to open new ones. Look at our website for more information www.lfm.org.uk. Each market has its own Facebook page where we post photos and weekly news, and we’re on twitter @LondonFarmers and Instagram too.
It’s a common fallacy that farmers markets are expensive. It’s true that a farmer can’t compete with the economics of buying for a huge supermarket chain, but you pay a fair price for a good product, directly to farmers and small producers. Vegetables, eggs, fruit all compare very well. This is not to say some things are not more expensive; our bread can costs more – but supermarkets have nothing to compare to a loaf of slow rise, additive free sour dough baked in London; chickens can also cost more but anyone that’s tried a free range or organic farmers market chicken knows it’s worth the extra. For flavour, quality and environmental impact farmers markets will always be better than supermarkets. Farmers markets are for everyone, come and see.