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A great outlet for smallholders
7:40am Sunday 27th November 2011 in Grow Your Own
When I visited Malvern Country Market, it was with the intention of popping in to have a quick look. I came away with strawberry and rose jam, two hardy perennials, mango chutney and a bag of greengages. It was difficult to resist the tempting array of fresh, home-grown or home-made produce. And easy to see why these friendly rural markets appeal to their many regular customers.
I was also inspired by the many capable ladies and men who bring their produce to market. Some are in their 70s and seem to single-handedly manage their smallholdings too. On my way home I was trying to work out what surplus produce I could sell at my own local country market. Perhaps cooked ham when we have a freezer full of pig, maybe home-made chutney?
It was obvious that these co-operative markets offer a great outlet for smallholders to sell their produce direct to customers. Particularly as the cost of becoming a member is the grand sum of 5p. Becoming a member provides you with full product and public liability insurance while undertaking work on behalf of Country Markets.
So unlike other ways of selling home-grown produce direct, such as farmers markets, there isn’t the initial financial outlay of having to pay for your stall and insurance.
The stalls are in fact shared at Country Markets. Everybody’s produce is mixed together – whether on the preserves stall, home-baking, crafts or fruit and vegetable stalls. And everybody helps out manning the stalls – as Rosemary Edwards, who brings delicious home-made cakes, bread and quince jelly to the Malvern Country Market, says, “It’s very friendly, we’re on first name terms with a lot of the people who come to shop and we all sell each others produce happily.”
At the end of the market, you work out how much of your produce has sold and invoice Country Markets. Payment is monthly with a small commission (normally around 10 per cent) deducted to cover the expenses of the market, such as hire of the hall.
There’s also no pressure to start off too big, you can bring small amounts of produce and see how it sells.
Heather, who brings produce from her garden to Malvern, likes to be self-sufficient in growing vegetables at home and brings any surplus to market: “Broad beans and spinach sell well and I bring French beans, carrots, beetroot, herbs, chard, lettuce, rocket, spring onions, duck eggs, cut flowers, jam - you can bring a bit of everything and try anything.”
There are now around 400 Country Markets operating throughout England, Wales and the Channel Islands, with producers aged between 16 and 100 from all walks of life. The history of these co-operative markets is closely entwined with that of the W.I.
Their roots go back to 1919 when the Agricultural Organisation Society (now DEFRA) sponsored the W.I. to set up the co-operative markets as a way of selling surplus produce and increasing the supply of food to a war ravaged nation.