Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What Makes A Farmers' Market Successful?

For the past few years, I have been a customer at several different farmers’ markets in Boston where Kimball Fruit Farm sells produce. I couldn’t help noticing there were always a lot of customers around their stalls. Often there would be a line of waiting customers, while other nearby businesses would have only a few customers. Yet, the vegetables all looked similar.

What, I wondered, made Kimball’s stand so popular? Something had to be different, and I wanted to know what it was.

The only way to find out was to ask, so that is what I did. I interviewed Marie Hills, who with her husband Carl, owns and operates Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell, Mass.

Marie knows the business side of the farm’s operation. She attributes its success to good farming practices, good help, good business practices and personal qualities of both the family and their employees.

To see the full interview go to
To see the full story go to

Friday, April 11, 2008

Notthinghill (London) Sat. Farmers' Market

While I was in London in April, 2008 I visited the Nottinghill Gate farmers’ market a small neighborhood market with wonderful vendors. All of these vendors, in addition to the markets they attended had a box scheme for customers as well as a farm shop which made up 100% of their income. They were very friendly and happy to discuss their operations while at the same time serving their customers.

A few vendors that stood out for me was Shabden Park Farm from Surrey who farm on 420 acres of land and have a wonderful and very informative website.

Since they were so transparent in theie operations at the market I am not surprised to see the wealth of information on their website. So do check it out at Their lambs are bred from Suffolk cross ewes using a Charollais ram, and from North Country Mules using a Suffolk ram and are reared on grasses, herbs and wildflowers free from chemical fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides. They employ traditional, extensive sheep farming methods.

Another vendor that I liked was Twelve Acres.

Dan Green is a fifth generation farmer whose expertise is in organic pig farming. He raises Tamworth, Large Black and Middle White all traditional breeds on 12 acres of land.
His is a much smaller operation so their website is rather basic.

Olive Farm in Somerton has 140 Guernsey cows (my favorite along with Jersey’s) on 300 acres. In 2007 they won the prestigious Taste of The West Awards for the Best of Dairy with their untreated Guernsey Cream. They were doing a very brisk business at the market selling raw milk and cream.

Clare’s Organics was run by a young couple, Paul and Clare Sykes who are tenant farmers on the border of Wiltshire/Oxfordshire. They raise 2,000 Hubbard chickens on 7 acres of land and rotate the birds on a three month cycle. The birds are outside three quarters of the time (required to be certified organic) and they are killed at a local (4 miles away) organic slaughterhouse every Wednesday. At the Saturday market they sell around 80 birds. Check out their website at

There was wonderful buffalo cheese being sold by ALHAM WOOD FARM, along with raw milk and yoghurt with live bacteria. When I last checked their website was not interactive but here is the link.

And last but not last a farm whose name I might have spelt wrong since I cannot find a link to them at all and that is Roakedy Farm in West Sussex.

They had 20,000 laying chickens on 60 acres of organic land along with another 17 acres that they lease. There chickens are Colombia, Black Feather and Gold Line (all hybrids)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Recent Visit to London Farmers' Markets

If I have been quiet for a while it is because I was in the UK. I went to visit family and while I was there decided to check out the food scene. What a surprise! First I went to visit two farmers' markets; Nottinghill Gate and Marylebone. The latter was much the larger but what they all had in common was TRANSPARENCY. Every farmer was more than willing to talk to me and tell me all about the food that they raised or produced. Some had details written on chalk boards that were pinned to their stall. Just as in the U.S. most of the farmers' made 100% of their income from the markets combined with either their farm stall, box shemes or contracts with local restaurants. The latter was not used by a lot of farmers though. Finding slaughterhouses that would deal with small farmers was an issue both sides of the Atlantic.

The UK farmers said they had no problem with farm labor because of the recent addition of the East European countries into the EU. However the number of Eastern and Central European workers registering for work in the UK fell last year and is expecteed to fall further this year because of increased opportunities back home. too bad for UK farmers because these folks worked very hard for extremly low wages and kept the industry ticking. IF the US would have such a union with Mexico and Canada we would have no problems either, for the short term anyway, but we do. I wonder why the NAFTA agreement only included goods and not the movement of people!

The big difference however was that the food movement is much more intergrated than here in the Boston area (all I can talk about really). It goes from the farmers willingness to be transparent, to organizations such as the Soil Assocation, to journalists who write daily/weekly food columns supporting local food, to very outspoken chefs/cookbook authors, to restaurants and pubs printing on their menues where the food came from and two supermarkets who are actively supporting the movement (Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencers).

While I was at the markets I listened to customers interacting with producers and asking questions about the produce. However, never once did I hear customers saying the produce or meat was too expensive and that they could buy it cheaper in some supermarket; a refrain that I often hear at farmers' markets' in the Boston area. When I asked farmers' about this they said "customers are buying taste and they know this." In restaurants it was the same.

But what is actually the price difference? I visited Waitrose in the center of London (I have convered pounds to dollars and kilos to pounds).
- Not free range (which means they are kept in cages like most of our chickens) $3 per lb.
- Free range and corn fed - $5 per lb.
- Organic, free range from a specific named farm and certified by the Soil Assocation - $7.50 per lb.

Eggs were similarly priced although I forgot to look at the caged birds eggs.
- Columbian Black tail Hens,free range but not organic - $3 for six eggs
- as above but organic - $5 for six eggs.

It was obvious to me that this entire movement has been consumer driven. There were far more organic farmers in these markets then I see where I live BUT this was because there were many more meat, milk, and cheese vendors than at our markets in Massachusetts. Farmers' have to contain with rigid rules that means that eggs, cheese, meat and milk have to be kept in coolers.

It was wonderful to see printed at the top of most menues in pubs NO GM FOOD SERVED HERE. What a treat.

Some important labels (again completely transparent) were:
The Soil Association - is the main UK certification body for organic products. Its kitemark appears on 80 per cent of all organic products sold in the UK. Meat with this stamp means the animals have been outside for three-quarters of their life. Poultry must be in an environment where they can graze, ground-peck, and dust bath themselves. Very clar I must say.

Red Tractor - the Assured Food Standards labelling scheme that guarantees food has been produced, processed and packaged in the UK and complies with independent inspection standards regarding food safety, animal welfare, and responsible management of pesticides and waste.

Freedom Food - is a scheme run by the Royal Society for the PRevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to improve farm animal welfare. Their inspectors annualy check approved farms to see if they comply with their welfare standards. These include freedom from hunger, discomfort, pain and distress.
The first two were most apparent in the supermarkets. Since much of our meat is now coming from Asia and South America I only want to buy local meat so i found the Freedrom Food very good.

I will write more in detail later this week. Meanwhile check out some cookbooks whose writers are 100% behind the food movement.
Photo: Rose Prince

Rose Prince - The New English Kitchen, any Nigel Slater cookbook, British Reginonal Cooking by Mark Hix, any book by the late Jane Grigson but in particular English Food, Skye Gyngell's A Year in My Kitchen, and Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories to name just a few. And remember food out of a tin or a packet is not food at all and it definately is not cooking. I will include more later.