When customers shop at the UK’s only all-organic weekly farmers’ market, they help to support small-scale, sustainable farms from around London. By buying direct from the producers they can find out exactly how their food was grown or cooked and these small farmers can get the regular income they need to flourish. The market supports 30 small family-run farms and food businesses, all of whom come from within 120 miles of the market, most within 60 miles, and many based in Hackney itself.
Alongside fresh, seasonal, organic veg, salad and fruit from organic farms in Kent, Essex and Cambridgeshire, we have a range of more unusual products. Hook & Son from Sussex sell raw milk, butter and cream; Longwood Farm from Suffolk sell rare-breed meat and raw milk from Jersey cows; the Mushroom Table offers an eclectic range of wild and cultivated mushrooms; Channel Fish sells fish caught sustainably off the Sussex coast; Better Health Bakery employs people recovering from mental health issues to make beautiful sourdough bread; Mr Prempys make sugar-free, gluten-free, raw vegan cakes; other local people sell cakes, pickles, vegan creole fritters, Turkish gozleme, full English or vegan breakfasts – all using ingredients from the farmers who come to the market.
We worked with many of these local food producers from around Hackney to help them create businesses and develop the products they sell at the market. In the past year, we have welcomed two new salad makers, one smoothie/juice maker, a stall making brunches and burgers, a pickle and sauerkraut maker, two new gluten-free cake makers, a producer of organic hemp oil and a second Hackney honey producer. Our strict market rules (http://www.growingcommunities.org/market/getting-stall/ ) mean that we can focus on selling great, local, sustainable food.
We also run special events, such as seed swaps, Christmas markets and Apple Day in October.
The market is a recognised focal point for the local community, with many customers telling us they love the community feel and enjoy meeting friends there every Saturday. Customers love having a relationship with the people that grow their food, building trust, discussing recipes and discovering about life on the farms.
Some 60% of customers in our last survey said they had changed the way they shop and cook as a result of coming to the market: they buy more organic food, eat more seasonally, shop more locally and cook more adventurously. Customers are very loyal too, with almost half coming every week – whatever the weather. Most customers (87%) get to the market on foot, by bike or on public transport, which means the market is also helping to cut down on car journeys.
While organic food is necessarily more expensive than food farmed conventionally, because of the labour-intensive methods used to produce it, the farmers at the market charge fair prices – a basket of organic goods tends to cost at least 10% less than from other local retailers. Some 37% of customers in our most recent survey consider themselves to be on a low income. The market was also the first in London to accept Healthy Start vouchers.
Local charities and campaign groups also have free stalls at the market periodically. Many farmers donate unsold produce to North London Action for the Homeless, which cooks meals for homeless people twice a week in the hall of the church where the market takes place.