He’s known as Percy by many who have read his stand’s name wrongly but isn’t bothered whatever they know him by. The septuagenarian, who says his customers won’t let him pack up, remains committed to the future of the farmers’ market sector that he believes has much to offer those who are looking to start retailing direct to consumers.
“So long as they keep buying, they can call me anything,” said the ex-pig farmer with a familiar twinkle in his eye, who started with his Piercy’s Pork stand back in the late 1990s when York Auction Centre hosted its first farmers’ market.
“There are a few vacancies at present if farmers want to get going. It’s how many farm shops have started, by coming to these and getting known, but it doesn’t have to go that way. I’ve never opened a farm shop myself.”
Twenty-plus years ago, when farmers’ markets were a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, the farming retail sector was very different. There wasn’t the plethora of farm shops large and small that now sees some with visitor centres, countryside experiences and, in the case of Mainsgill Farm Shop on the A66 even camels!
“Mainsgill still attend some farmers’ markets even though they are now a huge concern, but we have many farming people who have built their reputation wholly on taking their stands every month at farmers’ markets.
“Andrew Voakes of Voakes Pies took over my position as chairman of Yorkshire Ridings Produce, a cooperative organisation that organises the farmers’ markets in our area; and other big supporters include the Worsdales of Hunton with their farmhouse baking and the Johnson brothers of Flixton who put all the stalls up and sell their vegetables.
“The main thing with running a stall is the consistency of your produce. That’s why customers keep coming back. Since we started up again after Covid-19 had shut us all down for a while it has been incredible the number of customers who have either come back to us or are new customers who have said they can’t get sausage like this anywhere.
“Folk are just pleased to see us and many have mentioned about being back on to some proper local food again. I’ve had some tell me they have thrown some stuff they’ve bought from supermarkets in the dustbin because their sausages were full of water. I believe that people coming to me buy on the quality of what I provide, rather than on price. My packet of sausages might be 30p dearer than a supermarket but at least my customers know they are getting something tasty. I have quite a few different varieties of sausage, as well as bacon and joints, including belly pork and shoulder. My favourite sausages are pork and black pudding and pork and haggis. Beautiful.
“Years ago I stood at nearly twenty farmers’ markets a month, some were weekly in those days. I now stand at eight – Otley, Harrogate, Selby, Wetherby, Malton, Easingwold, Guisborough and Pickering. There are less farmers markets now because of farm shops, or people retiring, but we are always keen on encouraging more stallholders. Every farmers’ market is different. Otley is now our best one. It is full of stalls in the market square. What people don’t realise is you’re allowed 25 per cent of craft stalls as well as food produce. These provide colour and improve them.”
John has fought to keep some farmers’ markets open, particularly Wetherby a few years ago.
“Wetherby had up to 40 stalls when it first started. It doesn’t have many right now, but if we had more stalls we would get more people. It would be a great one for new stallholders to give it a try. I’m not the only meat man there. Walbutt House Farm of Melbourne have a stand for their rare breed meats.
“If people are thinking of getting involved the best thing to do is to come along and see us in action. We used to have a lady who had a stall for plated pies, savoury or sweet. We don’t have that kind of stall at the moment. We don’t have anyone selling ready-made meals and currently there is nobody selling bread or fish at a lot of them. So, there are opportunities.”
John had built up his pig herd to 200 sows on the farmyard at Huby, near Easingwold that he’d initially taken over from his father, Jack, and then on land he’d taken on from his uncle Harry. He came out of pigs in the late 1990s.
“The pigs job collapsed around 1998-99. Everybody was going bust. I thought it was time to get out. I continued arable farming until about seven years ago. I’d started with Piercy’s Pork a couple of years before I packed up with pigs. I found I was making more out of farmers’ markets than I was out of the farm.”
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