Local shopping for local people

In our quieter moments, don’t we all hanker after being able to do something positive; something that we know will change things for the better; improve the world a little bit; even if it’s just our immediate environment? After all, we’re bombarded by all sorts telling us how we’re adversely affecting our world by unreasonably driving our cars when we should be catching a bus that runs twice a week from our village or trying to catch a disgustingly overcrowded train. But that’s not positive. Somehow it doesn’t make you feel that good when you’re told you’d be helping to save the planet if you cycled to work, in your suit, in the rain, all hot and sweaty. Nice.

It’s not surprising that we should feel powerless. Sometimes it hardly seems worth voting because, no matter who you vote for, it’s always the government that gets in. And I didn’t hear the majority of people imploring our government to make our forces invade Iraq but they still went ahead. Nearly two million people emailed the government against road pricing but they were told their voice didn’t count. We’re frequently being told that we ought to behave like responsible, caring citizens but who wants to do just what they’re told all the time?

But, you know what? We, as individuals, can change things. And we can make a difference. It’s via that national sport of ours – shopping. That’s where we have the power. For instance, you’ll notice that when supermarkets open new stores they get blamed for distorting our shopping habits and limiting choice. But when farmers’ markets proliferate and local produce begins to be a much more common topic of conversation then it’s public demand that is cited as being responsible. When processed food and too much salt and sugar is identified as killing us that bit too quickly it’s the big corporations that get the blame. But the movement for understanding your food comes, appropriately, from the grass roots. Well, from a small proportion of it anyway.

Back in 1998, a mate and I had an ambition to start the first farmers’ market in the North East. We failed. But we started the second one a month after the first and it’s still going strong and it’s won loads of awards. We did it primarily to promote the area in which we lived which was, and still is, Teesdale. We thought, correctly as it turned out, that farmers’ markets could become an attraction in their own right. However, we quickly learnt that the demand for the markets soon changed the lives of a number of the people trading at them. These were ordinary local people; farmers, housewives, people like you and me. People who thought they’d give such a market a go because it may be a welcome diversion from their current life.

Maybe they ran a cottage industry type business from their house kitchen or possibly farmed in the normal way, sending their animals to market as everyone else did. But some years years on there are new businesses and businesses with a new lease of life who found their route to success via these markets. At Barnard Castle market they include Martin Bell of Westholme Farm Meats, Tracy and Matthew Betney of Broom Mill Farm – who have developed so much that they travelled to Parma in Italy to see about curing their own meats the Italian way – and Lisa Hodgson with her Loopy Lisa’s Fudge Company who moved from her kitchen to a production unit such is her success.

Without the farmers’ markets in the region and the demand from their customers they wouldn’t have been able to develop and grow. So our supporting, as customers, what can appear at first just to be lifestyle businesses can actually benefit our local economy, provide us all with more choice, get us eating healthier food and, as a result, make a better life for all.

So go on. Try it. Support our local producers and see if you can make a difference.

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