Focus on Farmers' Markets

29 October, 2012

Douglas Watson, Project Manager at Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, has played a key role in helping to grow and improve farmers’ markets throughout Scotland. Speaking to the SFQC shortly before the conference on Local and Regional Food and Drink, Douglas described some of the unique values of farmers markets and their importance to communities across the country.

Firstly, how do you feel 2012 has treated Scottish farmers’ markets?

“It has been a challenging year. There’s no question about it, consumers are looking for value but they also still want to treat themselves.  Farmers’ markets provide an ideal opportunity for something fresh, quality and different.  Whereas before people would have maybe gone out for a nice meal, in the current economic situation and with the media focus on culinary programs, people might now tend to grab a couple of good steaks at the farmers’ market instead.”

In the last three years, have you noticed a change in the way consumers view food and where it is sourced from?

“Oh absolutely, there’s a very noticeable interest in provenance. In our experience provenance is a primary driver for people. They want to buy from the producer and that has become increasingly important.”

How do you feel the quality of produce at farmers’ markets compares with what's available in supermarkets?

“Quality is quite difficult to define, it’s tricky to establish like-for-like. Products and service at markets and supermarkets really differs. If you go to say, Waitrose you’ll find a nice warm place with well sourced produce. The markets are a totally different environment. At a supermarket you can’t really have your food explained to you.

“At a farmers’ market though you are buying from the producer and they are perfectly placed to explain the attributes of what they’re selling. If you fancy a nice steak at the market the person selling it to you can explain all the attributes of the product. They’ll probably be able to tell you the name of the cow as well as the breed, what it ate and where it was reared. Quality obviously comes from a basket of attributes and a producer can explain it all to you at a farmers’ market.”

How helpful has the recent Scottish Farmers’ Market Quality standards initiative been in building trust with both with consumers and traders?

“The standards which have been developed provide a great benchmark of best practice which are respected and valued by markets, producers and consumers alike. They have now been piloted in a number of markets across Scotland and the results have been very positive. ”

Scotland Food and Drink recently stated that Scottish food exports could be worth more to the country than oil. Do you ever worry that our local produce is held in higher regard overseas than it is at home?

“No. the problem we have is we have no empirical definition of local. To someone on Skye local might mean that food comes from Skye. Others on the island might consider local the Highlands and some Scotland. If you stop an American tourist in Edinburgh they might say they’ve enjoyed the local haggis.

“Local is a very difficult thing to define; it has a lot to do with scale and accessibility. For example a small producer in Dumfries and Galloway who sells everything in the region won’t be concerned with exporting. If they grow they might start to sell across Scotland. If they grow further they might then look outside the country.”

The growth of markets across Scotland has been pretty remarkable, with 75 farmers’ markets and 35 community markets now taking place across the country. Do you feel that there are any areas which could still benefit from having their own market? 

“I think the answer is no. we draw a point of definition between the farmers’ market and community market. Farmers’ markets are more commercial, and sellers come to sell. Small towns and villages may want a market but perhaps don’t have enough producers to make a farmers market viable. With a community market you can have a few producers plus anyone locally who wants to sell their own lifestyle products such as craft items. The scope for community markets is therefore limitless as almost every village could have one. Farmers markets however need a little more footfall. There is more potential for growth there, but most towns in Scotland now have their own farmers market.”

The recent economic troubles have hit small town high streets across the UK pretty hard over the last few years. Do you think farmers’ markets can play a big part in encouraging people back to town centres?

“You hear about one high street shop a day closing and I do think the markets will be an important part in a number of street initiatives. Markets are fabulous things, they can be themed along any number of areas; farmer, craft, continental, young enterprise . . . there really is a lot of scope. Markets are now a part of modern culture too, they’re fashionable and entertaining and I think you’ll see them supporting growing trends such as street theatre, pop up restaurants and other activities. Markets seek to get people to the high street while providing something special, fun and different.”

Right, we’re all busy people these days. In a sentence tell us why we should take the time out at the weekend to visit our local farmers market? 

“Farmers markets provide a unique opportunity to purchase directly from the producer products which are not generally available outside the market; they also have the benefit of providing fresh, healthy products with clear provenance.”

For more information on Scottish Farmers' Markets please visit thier website by clicking here.

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