The aim of any farmers’ market is to put the consumer in contact with the producer and to provide local, fresh, quality produce.
There are now around 750 farmers’ markets throughout the UK. When you spread those numbers out across the country, you can see how fortunate Taunton is to have one.
A farmers’ market allows consumers to:
- Cut out the middleman, meaning you’re not paying for transportation, refrigeration and storage.
- Buy directly from the people who produce the food you consume, not from sellers who know nothing of its provenance and have had nothing to do with its production
- Benefit from freshness and flavours which are unique to the area
To be eligible for sale at a farmers’ market, fresh produce must be from the area defined as ‘local’, meaning all the products on sale should have been grown, reared, caught, brewed, pickled, baked, smoked or processed within 30 miles of the market.
Fresh ingredients and traditional production techniques have defined the modern farmers’ market for two decades now. While a lot of the attraction is the quality and taste, that’s not all consumers are interested in. ‘Localness’ is the heart of a farmers’ market. Farming conditions in the immediate area contribute considerably to the uniqueness of a particular farmers’ market. Produce from Somerset, for instance, will be quite different to produce from Yorkshire.
This is not just down to local preference, but differences in the geology, weather, water quality and natural habitat. All these elements go to making local produce unique to the area. Nowhere else in the UK will have meat, cheese or vegetables which taste exactly like those produced around Taunton.
Our produce has not been put on a lorry and then into overnight refrigeration. It hasn’t then been picked up and put onto another lorry and it hasn’t come off the lorry onto the supermarket shelves. This sequence of being moved around, waiting around and sitting around on a shelf reduces freshness and means the connection between the producer and the consumer is non-existent. Instead, farmers’ market produce has literally gone from the farm to the market stall. On top of that, you get to meet the guys who produced it, because the principal producer, or a representative involved in the production process, must attend the stall. This means they know about the produce and are available to answer if you have any questions.
As well as offering a taste and freshness rarely found in mass-produced food, farmers’ markets have the opportunity to offer local specialist products such as unique-recipe sausages made from hand-reared pork, bread made from local grains and cheese made from local milk – all small-scale and aimed at local consumers. Other traditionally-made artisan products are also available, all using local ingredients, at a price and quality you couldn’t possibly buy it at if it were sourced by a supermarket or specialist shop.
History and Environment
History also plays a part. Food and drink associated with the area, such as cheddar and cider, is given a chance to restore its original flavour and the opportunity to keep traditional production methods alive.
Older breeds of sheep, cows and pigs are becoming less rare because small-scale farmers, who are the core of a farmers’ market, specialise in rearing them. Old-fashioned, flavoursome vegetables and fruits are making a come-back thanks to the interest shown in them by organic and traditional farmers and their customers.
With this upsurge in older breeds and plants, the environment is benefiting, since older breeds can be fed on a more natural habitat, and heritage plants support a wider range and larger number of insects. Without synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, the soil becomes richer and helps reduce carbon in the environment.
While offering all this local, fresh and organic produce, as well as specialist artisan products, farmers’ market foods are not expensive. The produce is affordable and accessible, with prices comparable to similar-quality items in supermarkets.
A farmers’ market is about seasonality, food miles, provenance and sustainability. It’s about bringing you what your local area provides at a price you can afford. It’s about forging a connection and sense of community between you and the people who produce food from the hills and fields around Taunton. Oh, yes. And it’s about taste, too.
Visit us every Thursday on the High Street.