Farmers markets are in rude health

It’s easy to presume that farmers markets have been around forever, yet this new breed only began to appear on our streets and in town market places 17 years ago.

John Piercey from Huby on his market stall at the farmers market in Harrogate.

Bath Farmers Market is widely credited with being the first but such claims are generally challenged and it would be no surprise if there had been a farmers market that had already been up and running for hundreds of years.

But with over 750 of them now in existence throughout the UK do they all work?

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Three years ago Wetherby Farmers Market was reputed to be in danger of closure; it appeared that the town council could afford to run it no longer. Too few stallholders and poor footfall was cited, but for a town that still runs a popular regular weekly market on a Thursday, loyal stallholders like John Piercy were left scratching their heads.

Fortunately there was help at hand and today Wetherby Farmers Market - which takes place tomorrow - is growing now that it is now managed by Yorkshire Farmers Markets and with Jane Chidley and Allan Robinson at the helm.

It was they who were responsible for the success of farmers markets at Otley, Harrogate and Knaresborough, and it is Wetherby that is now building a healthy reputation.

“John (Piercy) told me recently that it made his heart sing to see stallholders all around the market place,” says marketing officer Jane.

‘There were times when, before we took over, there was only his Piercy’s Pork stand and a handful of others. Now we also have local producers Ox Close of Kirk Deighton with their game and traditional meats; Mrs Barker’s beef and lamb from near Gate Helmsley; Worsdale’s farmhouse baking from Hunton, near Bedale; Voakes’ Pies from Whixley; Yorkshire Dales cheese from Leeming Bar; and honey producers, jams and chutneys.

“We’ve some new ones tomorrow too. We have a man from Hartlepool coming with his New York-style cheesecakes and we’ve recently taken on a fishmonger, Joe Knott of The Real Catch from near Hull. So we can guarantee that anyone who comes will have a great choice.

“We’re hoping that the increased number of stalls and the variety we now have on offer will entice even more shoppers to come into the market place each month.

“One of the problems has been in getting our message out to the people of Wetherby and the surrounding area that we now have a far better offer for them. It still has its good months and bad months and of course the weather plays its part but if it’s a fine day then we see the trade really pick up.”

Yorkshire Farmers Markets is a separate not-for-profit arm of the Otley Town Partnership. The group name came about in recent times in order to brand the four markets.

Otley Farmers Market began in 2002 through funding from the Market Towns Initiative that sought to breathe new life into traditional town centres. Otley has over 40 stallholders every month and is the flagship farmers market of the group.

Due to its exemplary management Harrogate and Knaresborough were also taken under the same wing prior to the rescue act for Wetherby.

Jane explains how the markets are managed: “We get lots of applications every month from people wanting to attend our farmers markets and we have to sit down and look at what we already have and what we have scope for. We do have a wish list of the kind of stalls we’re looking for to fill any gaps and we’re always happy to look at those who are doing something similar to what we have, so long as they’re not duplicating existing stallholders efforts.”

Allan sees it all from the sharp end. He’s the man who makes sure everything is in order for all the stallholders and collects their money for renting the stall space. He and Jane were both at Harrogate Farmers Market on Thursday this week where once again there were over 30 stalls.

“I’m the one who gets it in the neck if we get it wrong and have some form of duplication, but we’re very careful. We just want the markets to work well, that’s the long and short of it and they do.

“Wetherby now has a good number of stallholders and with the new ones coming on I can see it becoming much more popular for shoppers.”

For more information about local markets