Food & Drink editor Olivia Greenway does the rounds at six Surrey farmer’s markets and finds out why they are a lifeline for local and artisan producers.
Although most of us use supermarkets – online or otherwise – for our basic shopping, food shopping in them does get a bit boring, even in a ‘posh’ one. And if you care about provenance, a farmer’s market could be a good option. But more than that – farmer’s markets sell food and drinks made by independent producers usually sold to you by the person who produced it, probably just a few miles away; often items you just can’t get elsewhere.
The farmers, artisan cooks and bakers are passionate about their produce and by using the market, you are supporting these businesses. Although some have a Facebook page, that’s about it; they just don’t have the marketing clout of the big boys.
There are often waiting lists to have a stall and stall holders have to satisfy rigorous criteria. Typically, farmers’ markets are held monthly on the same day of the week. Most are run by the county council but a few are organised by a local committee of residents. Here are just six.
This is one of the newer farmers’ markets right in the centre of Walton-on-Thames, hence the name of the shopping centre where it is based. Up to 40 stalls supply fruit and vegetables, meat, bread and cakes, with a focus on local and organic.
Where: Heart Shopping Centre in The Plaza
When: The first Saturday 11am to 4pm
Parking: Parking in the shopping centre or its a 20 minute walk from the train station.
Stall: Chalk Hills Bakery
Chris Robinson runs the Chalk Hills Bakery with his wife Rosie. They were inspired by visiting a café in Lyme Regis that also baked its own sourdough bread. Established towards the end of 2010, sales for their artisan products have increased by at least 18% every year since, so they quickly outgrew their premises and recently moved to a larger location in Horley. They also have a small retail store in Reigate High Street. “I’ve been doing the Walton market for nearly four years. Everyone seems to sell bread these days but our sourdough is special. It’s hand made and naturally fermented without yeast or artificial additives. It’s a slow process but the result is a bread that is packed with flavour and has its trademark unique texture, with a shelf life of three to five days.” Working to a quality rather than price, Chris also makes pastry products from scratch, sourcing top quality butter and flour.
Cobham Farmers’ Market
Small but perfectly formed could sum up this friendly market of around 15 –20 stalls.
Where: Hollyhedge Road near the High Street
When: Last Saturday 9am to 2pm
Parking: Parking in Downside Road
Stall: Sussex Pie Company
Barbara set up her pie company – making proper pies, using puff pastry and with generous fillings – in 2002. Helped by her daughters Sarah and Helen, Sarah took over the family business in 2012, naming it the Sussex Pie Company. Barbara is still very much involved though “It’s like being a hamster on a wheel – you can’t stop” and attends the Cobham market. She’s been coming here for around ten years. “I named one of my pies after a regular stallholder ‘Nora’s Folly’ (chicken, bacon, mushroom, spring onion and dijon mustard) as she gave me the recipe. We do all sorts of chicken pies – with mushroom, leeks, apricot and plain and in season we do game pies – rabbit and venison, as well as steak pies. The pies come in three sizes – individual, medium (2/3 people) and large. “There is a great camaraderie amongst the stallholders and customers. Some become friends and send Christmas cards.”
Haslemere has one of the smallest markets but it’s a good place for a beginner if the others have a waiting list. Expect to find up to 20 stalls here.
Where: Held in the High Street
When: 1st Sunday, 10am to 1.30pm
Parking: Chestnut Avenue off West Street
Stall: The Sicilian Kitchen
A health scare in 2014 caused Felicia Troia to reassess her life. Born in Sicily, she had been introduced to home cooking as a child, so doing something with food, something she loved, seemed like a good idea. Sicilian Kitchen was born. “I started it as a hobby really, but it kind of took off. We make fast food for foodies, I suppose. I like to inspire people with my food.” Their most popular item is the arancina – rice balls filled with different ingredients and served hot. All gluten-free, there are six varieties, including a vegan one. Their jar of aubergine caponata (slowly braised vegetables) won gold at the Great Taste Award in 2016. “Every where you go in Sicily, is caponata. I can assure you this is the real deal; it’s an old family recipe!”
Where: Park Street, opposite The Mall
When: 3rd Saturday 10am to 3pm
Parking: Park in The Atrium. Train station short walk away.
Stall: Cassy’s Preserves
Cassy’s Preserves is owned by local couple Alison and Mark Horner. They started making jams and marmalades for friends and relatives and then one day decided to sell them at a car boot. It was suggested they tried a farmers’ market, so in 2014 they did, with great success. They now produce around 30 different varieties of marmalades, jams and chutneys, making the most of seasonal produce.
Ripley Farmers’ Market was set up by local food aficionado Sally Erhardt in 2005. It’s a community venture, supported by locals who form the committee to run it. Proceeds are invested in the community – for example, by providing funding for renovating the church clock and supporting expansion of the village school. They regularly have 25 stalls, many stallholders loyal to the ethos of the endeavour.
Where: Village Green (or nearby field, depending on weather)
When: Second Saturday, 9am to 1pm
Parking: Parking in Village Green car park, off the High Street
Stall: Kokoh Chocolate
Joanna Marshall had a background in food packing design with several years spent with both Marks and Spencer and John Lewis/Waitrose before she set up as a freelance packaging designer. One day, she was designing a leaflet for a shoe manufacturer when she thought it might be a good idea to make the brand more exciting by making a shoe out of chocolate. This piqued her interest in chocolate making and she started making chocolates for family and friends. Her very first farmers’ market was at Ripley seven years go and she has been there ever since.
Guildford Farmer’s Market is probably the largest and most well attended in Surrey, established for 17 years and regularly attracting 50 stallholders.
Where: High Street
When: First Tuesday 10.30am to 3.30pm.
Parking: Public car parks nearby and the market is a short walk from the station. Free park and ride from The Spectrum leisure centre (small bus fare to pay, concessions for seniors
Stall: Bookham & Harrison
Rob Bookham has been trading at Guildford farmer’s market since it first started. He sells their famous Twineham Grange parmesan cheese, the only one approved by the Vegetarian Society, Sussex Charmer hard cheese and freshly churned Southdowns butter.
“A farmer’s market is a godsend for a small business. When we first started our retail cheese business, it was almost impossible to get a foot in the door of the big stores or even delicatessens as the former needed so much stock and to the latter we were an unknown quantity.
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