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Top 10…UK farmers’ markets

Jeff Holman

15th April, 2011

From local specialities to homemade treats, shopping at Britain’s farmers’ markets is a great way to get stuck into premium produce and support local farmers. Jeff Holman rounds up some of the best

The increasing numbers of farmers’ markets in our towns and cities is great news for consumers and food producers alike. Rita Exner, of the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association [FARMA], says that shopping at a farmers market creates ‘a very enjoyable experience. You feel more informed and better about what you are buying.’ Fun aside, shopping at farmers’ markets is also a greener alternative to the weekly trolley dash around the supermarket. Not only do you support local producers, you’re also minimising food miles.

Rupert Aker, of the Soil Association, says that farmers’ markets are ideal for people who want to shop more responsibly and also function as a good way of encouraging people to reconnect with their food. ‘Buying from a farmers market takes people into their town or city and reconnects the public to the producers in a very direct way,’ he says. Lee Woodger, of the National Farmers Union [NFU], points out that it’s a mutually beneficial situation for both customers and suppliers. ‘It is one of the best ways you [the consumer] can be sure of the quality of the product you are buying’ he comments, adding that it gives farmers more control ‘over what they produce and allows them to connect with their customers. Because this economic exchange benefits all parties at a community level, farmers markets are a great way to keep financial benefits within local economies.‘ If you want to get to know your local farmers better, FARMA’s Farm Shopping website has a postcode search engine to help you find your nearest market but in the meantime, here’s our round-up of the UK’s best and brightest farmers’ markets.

Winchester Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: A bi-monthly festival of local produce, Winchester is the largest farmers’ market in the country, with its 95 stalls attracting over 16,000 people per month. Winner of FARMA’s ‘Urban Farmers' Market of the Year’ award; it was also voted ‘Best in Country’ by the Guardian’s food supplement. There’s an enormous variety of produce on offer, including everything from hog roasts to olive oil, herb dressing, ostrich meat, and dog treats. Particularly good is the excellent fresh trout, sold whole or in fish cakes and pies, from the New Forest Smokery and Trout Farm. Beauty addicts should take a look at the stall selling scented organic soaps made from goat’s milk. They might sound bizarre but they’re brilliant for sensitive skin.
Top pick: For a special treat, try the Meadow Cottage Farm stall, which offers cream, unpasteurised milk, 19 varieties of ice cream and four different types of sorbet. All of their products are made with milk from their pedigree Jersey cows.
To find out more, go to: www.hampshirefarmersmarkets.co.uk
 
Ripley Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: Awarded FARMA’s ‘Rural Farmers' Market of the Year’ gong, this Surrey farmers’ market is run entirely by volunteers with proceeds going to local causes. Held on the second Saturday of every month, the market features over 40 stalls with fresh meat, eggs, vegetables, bread and cakes are all on sale. It also runs special events as part of the market - a dog show, Easter egg hunt, and Royal Wedding celebration will all be held in April.
Top pick: In keeping with the market’s community spirit, Ripley runs a community stall that can be reserved by local charity organisations.  This gives visitors the chance to find out more about local initiatives and give back to the community and its producers.
To find out more, go to: www.ripleyfarmersmarket.co.uk
 
Edinburgh Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: Held every Saturday, Edinburgh has over 60 stalls and is the largest farmers’ market in Scotland. Located on Castle Terrace, adjacent to the impressive Edinburgh Castle, this one market that has a really traditional feel. Carmichael Estate offers a wide variety of meat, including venison, and lamb from Scotland’s oldest family farm. Scottish oatcakes are available in every permutation imaginable while Thirsty Cross’ Scottish cider has proved popular. There’s also a stall selling locally made knitwear and leather goods.
Top pick: Stoats Porridge has turned the classic breakfast dish into an art form and offers a variety of novel ways to eat it, including the world’s first porridge bar.
To find out more, go to: www.edinburghfarmersmarket.co.uk
 
Harrogate Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: Taking place on the second Thursday of every month, the Yorkshire market has around 40 stalls and offers a huge selection of culinary herbs, fresh vegetables, and meat. The award winning pies and Yorkshire honey are a good place to start but don’t forget to check out the great selection of regional cheeses and unusual Yorkshire rapeseed oil. Also worth a look is the stall belonging to Knaresborough bakers, Robinson’s Pies, who have an enormous selection of homemade pies.
Top pick: Langthorne’s Buffalo offers a delicious selection of all-natural buffalo burgers, steaks, and sausages. Eat one at the market or take them home for dinner. They raise their own buffalo, pigs, and deer on their North Yorkshire farm.
To find out more, go to: www.harrogate.gov.uk
 
Stoke Newington Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: The unique East-London based farmers’ market was established by Growing Communities to try and bring organic, fresh food to urban communities. It’s relatively small, with only 20 stalls but was the first British farmers’ market to go completely organic. Offering all of the usual suspects, producers at the market all come from within 129 miles of Hackney. The true beauty of this hidden gem is that the way it encourages and fosters urban organic farming and consumption, via the inspirational produce.
Top pick: Those with a sweet tooth should check out Niko B; an organic chocolatier whose offerings include chocolates containing some unusual ingredients such as fresh herbs and sea salt. Best of the bunch are the ganache stuffed figs soaked in amaretto.
To find out more, go to: www.growingcommunities.org
 
Gainsborough Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: Held monthly, Gainsborough has an unusual venue in the shape of the Marshall’s Yard shopping centre. Location aside, there is plenty of local loveliness to sample including fresh vegetables, meat, bread, and cheese. Treats include homemade fudge and jam. There’s even a stall selling ostrich meat, should you fancy a change from chicken, beef and lamb.
Top pick: Redhill Farms offers a selection of free-range pork products made from their ethically bred and reared pigs. Check out their selection of sausages, pork, dry cured hams and bacon, as well as other seasonal products.
To find out more, go to: www.marshallsyard.co.uk
 
Stroud Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: The Stroud market has 60 stalls and is held every Saturday. Among producers are Niang’s Thai snacks, which are made with Madgett’s free-range chicken, and About Soup’s great range of handmade soups. It even has its own market café that serves Fairtrade tea and coffee as well as sandwiches, paninis, and soups. Seasonal produce is the name of the game and there are plenty of stalls selling local specialities such as Double Gloucester and Stinking Bishop cheeses, and Gloucester Old Spot pork.
Top pick: The Days Cottage stall offers great fruit juices made from local apples, pears, and cherries. Proceeds go to help the struggling Gloucestershire fruit industry, which has seen 50 percent of its orchards disappear over the last 50 years.
To find out more, go to: www.fresh-n-local.co.uk
 
Haverfordwest Farmers' Market
Why it’s great: Held every other Friday, Haverfordwest offers an interesting mixture of produce including low-sugar jams and preserves, award winning cheese, and home-reared lamb and beef. With 50 stallholders offering great local and regional produce, there’s plenty to see. Don’t miss the Welsh Bakery, whose pancakes and fresh fruit make up what is quite possibly the nicest Friday morning brunch imaginable. 
Top pick: Claws Shellfish offers freshly caught and dressed crab and shellfish. Winners of the 2010 gold ‘True Taste’ award, Claws Shellfish might have fallen prey to a dodgy pun but they really know their whelks from their cockles.
To find out more, go to: www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk
 
St. George’s Market
Why it’s great: A Belfast institution, St George’s Market is open every weekend and is by far the best place to sample the Ulster Fry – the Northern Irish equivalent of the English breakfast. The Saturday market includes local fish from Portavogie, pork from Cookstown, beef from Armagh, seasonal pheasant and organic vegetables. Other stalls offer a wide variety of speciality foods including cheese, wild boar, pastries, and tea and coffee. Don’t miss out on the large selection of local sea salt, all of which comes direct from the nearby coast.
Top pick: The incredibly popular Piece of Cake bakery offers a wonderful selection of pastries and breads made using organic flour and fresh fruit.
To find out more, go to: www.belfastcity.gov.uk
 
Taunton Farmers Market
Why it’s great: Held every Thursday, Taunton has 25 stalls and is run by a cooperative of local farmers and producers. Like other community markets, it has become a weekly event not just for shoppers but for community members looking to enjoy their town and connect with its people. The usual fresh local fruits, vegetables, and organic meat are also available at the market, as well as chutneys, regional cheeses, fresh eggs, and homemade cakes.
Top pick: Try something different and head over to the Saffron Kitchen stall for homemade Indian food. Traditional Indian dishes are made using local produce purchased in the market.
To find out more, go to: www.lots2do.co.uk

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