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Shopping at Farmers' markets
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in Choice magazine, 2010
The names by themselves are mouth-watering: Crudge's Cheese, Madgett's Farm, Five Valleys cordials, Hobbs House bakery, the Cotswold Pudding Company, Four Shires Apiaries. These are just a few of the stallholders you may well come across if you visit the farmers' market in Stroud in Gloucestershire. Add in the other stalls, and you'll be able to head for home with freshly harvested fruit and vegetables, locally reared meat and poultry, farmhouse cheeses, honeys, ciders, wines and juices, cakes of all kinds and even freshly cooked ready meals.
Stroud was one of the first farmers' markets in Britain , and the idea clearly works well for the town. But you don't necessarily have to head to country towns to find a farmers' market. Last year, for example, the prize of Farmers' Market of the Year was shared between the rural Lincolnshire town of Brigg and the rather less likely urban setting of Moseley in Birmingham .
As with all good ideas, some people are jumping on the bandwagon. Not all so-called farmers' markets are quite the real thing: sometimes they are little more than up-market delicatessens selling everything from Greek olives to Polish salamis. Real farmers' markets, says FARMA (the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association), are certified and have to abide by strict rules. One key principle is that the person staffing the staff must actually have been directly involved in growing or producing the things on sale (close family members are also allowed). The second golden rule is that produce must be locally produced – normally this means within a thirty mile radius, although fifty miles can be acceptable in certain situations.
Stallholders in FARMA certified markets aren't allowed to bulk out their stock with, for example, farm produce from other parts of the country or from other suppliers. Foodstuffs which are baked, smoked, brewed or processed must also have at least one ingredient grown or produced in the local area.
The rules mean that genuine farmers' markets offer an unusual opportunity nowadays to actually meet and talk to people who have been engaged in producing our food. The FARMA certification scheme also applies to farm shops.
The FARMA website www.farmersmarkets.net/ has a comprehensive list of markets and farm shops meeting its certification standard. It also offers advice for anyone thinking of establishing a new farmers' market in their own town.
If farmers' markets have been growing in popularity, so too has the idea of food boxes. The idea is simple: you subscribe to a food box scheme and then receive regularly (usually weekly) a box delivered to your home, full of vegetables and fruit. Many food box schemes only include organically produced food, and some are run by individual farmers. Other box schemes take produce from several different sources (and may also supply fruit grown abroad).
There's an element of serendipity when you sign up to a box scheme: the choice of what's inside the box is often made by the supplier, so you may find unusual vegetables making an appearance. Seasonality is important, too, so boxes in winter may be strongly biased towards root vegetables and winter greens.
If you are interested, enquire locally what food box services are available in your area, or try an internet search.
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