In TFP’s community pages we published practiical stories that could inspire others to set up similar projects. Here Jo Wheatley from Transition Wivenhoe, describes how their food group reignited their local market. Farmers’ Markets are key places for grassroots initiatives – public interchanges where you can run awareness-raising stalls, sell produce, swap seeds, and sometimes (as in Lewes and Crystal Palace) set them up in your own neighbourhood.
Wivenhoe is a town of 10,000 residents three miles from Colchester. With the University of Essex on our doorstep we are a diverse community with a significant student population and plenty of commuters.
Over the last 15 years greengrocers, bakers and a fishmonger have all disappeared from the town, due in part to the arrival of a large Tesco nearby. While many residents use out-of-town supermarkets and increasingly shop online, those that use the local Co-op often find prices are higher than elsewhere.
The first monthly farmers’ market was set up in the Congregational Church Hall in 2006 by the environmental charity en-form. Over the years the market experienced its share of ups and more often downs.Then in early 2012 Transition Town Wivenhoe took over the kitchen where only cups of tea and instant coffee had been available and started selling fresh coffee and food from ‘The Transition Cafe’. A BBQ was introduced outside serving fresh home made rolls filled with locally produced meat. Rolls were initially made by Transition volunteers and later bought from a local artisan home baker.
We then introduced free bike checks and by the end of 2012 footfall was steadily up and regular stallholder attendance had improved. Someone was recently overheard saying as they entered the hall, “You go and grab a seat in the cafe as it gets full up”. Music to our ears! Andrew Wilkinson from en-form comments: “Transition activities have all contributed to a significant increase in shoppers, creating a more vibrant market where people now hang around and socialise. This has increased the viability of the market and I now consider these activities to be integral to the event.”
TTW food group coordinator, Ruth Melville, emphasises the importance of working closely with stallholders, and as well as offering them free drink refills, the cafe buys produce directly from them as much as possible, such as bacon, sausages, cakes, jam, chocolates and juice:
“Stallholders don’t always want change but if you are there, mucking in with them each month, they are more willing to take your ideas seriously. It was notable recently when I went round canvassing about changing opening times that they were clearly supportive of what we wanted because of the good relationship we have with them.”
The market plays an important part in cultivating a demand for fresh and locally produced food and other services, and so as well as supporting the traders that attend, it helps to support other local initiatives too, such as our regular Dr Bike service. Making a monthly market thrive will always be a challenge as people forget which Saturday it is on and have to find other sources for weekly supplies of at least the fresh stuff.
The partnership between our initiative and the market organisers will have to continually find new ways to sustain it. However it does feel like we are tapping into something special: it’s clear people value the market far more than just as a shopping opportunity. It really is a community event offering a unique meeting space. In good weather cafe tables are set up outside and people sit out on the grass while children play.
Jo Wheatley is a founder mention of Transition Wivenhoe. TTW current projects include: ‘Borrowable Bike Bits’ lending cargo and kiddie trailers out; a community allotment, Repair Cafe, and bike powered events such as outdoor community films and gigs.
Image: Grain Grocers at Crystal Palace Market