Sunday, July 29, 2007

The problem with farmers' markets

I'm blogging in full this excellent Guardian article by felicity lawrence. The Beirut market, Souk el Tayyeb, of which am a founder, vendor and user, has almost exactly the same type of issues.

"There are some things that really bug me about farmers' markets.

(And ok let's get it out of the way at the beginning. I am a dedicated fan on the whole. I joined the campaign to open one in my area so I could buy fresh British food more easily. I cycle over and shop at it each week. I even rang the bell to open it when it was set up.)
But I want them to survive and prosper. I want to use them to do my essential food shopping not just for entertainment. I want my market to serve the whole community, so, these are the questions I'd like answered:

Why are all the broad beans and bits of rhubarb sold in prettily-bundled random bunches that look lovely enough for a Country Living magazine photo shoot but are impossible to compare for weight and price per kilo between producers?
Why is the fantastic bread I buy there more expensive than exactly the same bread sold by the same people at their local shop? Do they think we are all suckers or are their overheads for turning up to market really larger than those for running a shop premises?
Why does the industrial farmer, who got so fed up with being squeezed into the ground by the major retailers that he decided to deal with his public direct again, need to charge the punters more rather than less now he has cut out the rapacious middlemen?
Why do all the stallholders dish out plastic bags?
Why are there so many people in boat shoes pushing their children in off-road 4x4 buggies?
Why can't I buy my bananas there?
In fact, why can't we be more like the French?
One answer of course is that the French have retained their local and wholesale distribution networks where ours have been destroyed by the supermarkets, forcing the new farmer's markets to artificially recreate them. At a French market, the majority of food would be local but I would be able to buy other things too. I live in a metropolis, after all. Whoever said we couldn't have trade?
Yes I know, imposing a defined "local" area from which the produce at farmers' markets may come is one way they try to restore integrity to our much corrupted food. Yes, I know sometimes good food costs more than factory pap. But if they are really going to contribute to changing the whole system rather than just being fashionable playgrounds, farmers' markets need to get real. "

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