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What makes a “good” farmers market?

The first farmers market in Stafford since lock down will take place this Saturday 11th July. Maybe this is a good opportunity to think about what we want from our market,

Stafford farmers market began 20 years ago. It built up over a number of years to provide a really good mix of meats, veg, breads, baked goods, cheese, eggs, oatcakes and much more. It was quite an important social event to come to the market, which was well supported by the MP and the councillors, who came along most months at around 11am and attracted lots of other people who were keen to bump into them. Stall prices were low enough to keep most prices pretty reasonable, even though many of the public had the perception that farmers markets were expensive.

It survived the 2008 financial crash, when lots of people understood that it was important to try and keep local when possible.The public support was good.

When the Stone farmers market began this was very well promoted and brought in lots of people with a strong interest in food, some of whom made a special monthly trip to shop there. This led to an increasing number of stalls. This may have had a knock on effect on Stafford where some stall holders compared Stafford and Stone and decided to drop Stafford.

We have seen the rise of the cost cutting supermarkets, which have finished off most of the independent food businesses in town, and the town centre like many others is seeing far to many closed shops. People might like the idea of buying local, but it is not simple for them to do so.

In recent years the number of stalls in Stafford market has been on the decline. Stall prices and ingredients cost have all increased, and takings have not increased to meet this. A really key person on the market who grew and sold wonderful vegetables, at very inexpensive prices, gave up on trying to make it pay and began driving delivery lorries instead. A wet Saturday can lead to producers having to take a lot of stock home which is wasteful and raises prices.

The markets community has not done enough to publicise the monthly farmers market, and after 20 years there are still many Stafford people who have no idea that it exists.

The Covid-19 lockdown stopped the markets completely, and we are now at the point of re-starting with the first market taking place this Saturday – 11th July. This follows two farmers markets at Stone, the first of which had a limited number of traders and lots of customers, the second of which had lots more traders and fewer customers (it was a wet day)

Food producers have had to think differently during lockdown and many have kept things ticking over by doing delivery services or pick ups. Most producers will be thinking through how they want to try and sell in the future – what works for them. The idea of locally produced food has become popular again, but the question is how can we really make this work? To my mind farmers markets are a part of the solution, but there are other ways we need to consider to ensure that local people can access local food all the time, rather than just once a month.

So what makes a “good” farmers market? You will know one if you see one!

· There will be a range of different foods, some very affordable, with some luxuries too.

· You will be able to find things that are different from anything you can find in supermarkets.

· The food will be locally produced, with a focus on quality.

· You will meet the individual producers and get to talk with them about why they make what they make.

· You will be able to influence what they make. And may be able to sort out ways of accessing their produce between markets.

To make all this happen it has to work for the producers.

· They need to be able to sell enough of their produce to cover the costs and justify the very hard work that goes into preparing for a market.

· They will need to see the market is being well supported by other traders and the public.

· There work will be made much easier – and cheaper – if they can make to order, rather than running the risk of food being wasted, or needing to be frozen.

With regard to Stafford Farmers market – in recent years, perhaps as long as the last 10, it has not been as good as it once was. Now we have a chance to change this. The public are the key to this!

What are your views on how we can make Stafford Farmers market really good for the future?

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