As the effects of environmental damage become clearer, there’s a sense of increasing responsibility for all of us to provide a healthy planet for our children and future generations to inherit. Of course, the more cynical among us might say it’s all ‘too little, too late’, but there are others who think, ‘better late than never.’
Sustainability is one of the ways we, as individuals, can make a big difference. Business has always been driven by consumers, and by opting for sustainable produce, we can encourage such practices to become the norm, rather than the exception.
Local producers are already there. Small farmers, who care about quality over quantity, already know that cutting costs is not about producing more at the cost of the environment, but caring for the environment to encourage it to produce more. Organic methods in vegetable farming and sustainable, small-scale animal husbandry prove how effective and manageable sustainability can be.
We are not all farmers, of course, but the more we consumers ask for sustainable produce, the more the producers are encouraged to provide it. This is backed up, as always, by how and where our pennies are spent. Looking for sustainable food when out shopping, and visiting your local farmer’s market on a regular basis sends a big message to large-scale producers about what we want to eat.
A farmer’s market is typically stocked by producers who are already committed to sustainability. You will often find old varieties of vegetables on sale, or traditional breeds meat, all of which were commonly available years ago, but have been passed over and forgotten in recent years in favour of tasteless, higher-yielding varieties. These older varieties are naturally more resistant to disease than modern crops, so do not require gallons of pesticide sprayed over them to do well. Traditional breeds are hardier, and can thrive in environments where modern breeds would struggle.
Many farmers markets have a fish stall, but you might be surprised at what you find there. Beside the more recognisable varieties will often be fish we might never have tried before, like dorey or bass. Not only does trying them instead of the usual cod or haddock give struggling species a chance to catch up, it offers a wider variety for the dinner plate, too. Never a bad thing, in my opinion! Traditional fishing methods such as hand-lining do not disturb the seabed, and allow younger fish the chance to grow and breed, thus rebuilding the stocks depleted by intensive fishing. Similarly, larger nets allow smaller fish to escape to reach maturity.
As well as farmers, many farmers markets also have artisan producers among their traders – people committed to creating traditional and contemporary food using the best-quality local ingredients, often to restaurant standard. Take, for instance, Conrad’s Kitchen at our own Taunton Farmers Market. Conrad uses the best ingredients he can find, selecting a higher-quality, sustainable salmon, for instance, over cheaper but inferior fish. The Chillees is also a regular at Taunton Farmers Market. They grow their own chillies and use them to make awesome chilli jams and sauces in their own kitchen. All at Norton Fitzwarren. How local is that? Fran, the power-house behind Bumblees Preserves and the other half of The Chillees, uses local and home-grown ingredients for her preserves and chutneys, and for ingredients like oranges and lemons, she uses local independent green grocers. The Common Loaf use spelt, an ancient grain related to wheat, which thrives on poorer soil without artificial pesticides and fertilizer. From Nature is an entirely vegan stall, committed to supporting those following a plant-based diet – a diet proven to be more sustainable than eating meat.
In addition, we have sustainable producers with Forest Beef, who specialise in long horn cattle – an ancient breed. We have the entirely free-range Beech Ridge Farm as well as Ellises Farm with their rare Gloucester Old Spot pigs. Soil Association-approved organic Linscombe Farm are part of the market each week, along with sustainable and pesticide-free Rays Veg. Wallaces Farm, home of the Giant Pork Pie bring a variety of pork and farmed venison along, while a huge range of old fashioned variety apples and plums come from Charlton Orchards. Robert Hawker Venison, a registered deer manager from the Quantocks, is there during the winter months.
All these producers, among others, have sustainable, delicious and healthy food for sale each Thursday at Taunton Farmers Market.
Buying local already makes your carbon footprint that much smaller, but also buying sustainably helps shrink it further. The more we choose sustainable products, the more chance our planet has to recover.