ONE OF the region’s longest-running farmers’ markets marked a milestone birthday last month with a special celebratory event including an opera-singing butcher, free fizz and petting zoo.

Beaconsfield Farmers’ Market commemorated its 20th anniversary on Saturday, March 26, and hundreds turned up to enjoy the festivities and a showcase of fresh produce and artisan goods on display.

Town crier Dick Smith - who has been officiating at events like this for 53 years - opened the market with a historic bell commissioned in 1797 and welcomed dignitaries from Hall Barn Estates who own the land where the market is held, as well as Councillor Alastair Pike, Mayor of Beaconsfield.

Mayor Pike cut the impressive 20th lemon and elderflower cake made by stall holder Eleanor Hyatt from Maplewood Bakery while trader Binary Botanical invited guests to enjoy a free cocktail or mocktail from their pop-up bar.


Shoppers made the most of the opportunity to stock up

Shoppers made the most of the opportunity to stock up


How it all started

Thames Valley Farmers’ Market Co-operative was set up in Sept 2000 in response to a government initiative to promote sustainability and locally grown food. A group of Thames Valley producers formed themselves in an association which was incorporated into a co-operative in October 2003. Within months they were operating markets in 16 towns across Berkshire, Oxfordshire and South Buckinghamshire, including Beaconsfield, enabling farmers and small producers to sell their produce directly to local people within a 30 mile radius. Celebrity chefs were appointed as their Patrons.

The first batch of traders were primarily farmers, growers and bakers. Jane Bowler, of Dews Meadow Farm, award-winning pork producer from Oxford, was a founder member who helped set up the co-operative recalls that Beaconsfield was a popular market right from the get-go when it opened in 2002.

“It’s always been a good market and has won quite a few awards. There were quite a few meat suppliers, as there still are today, but selling a variety like rare breed pork and game. From the beginning there was always a baker, someone who produced honey, and someone selling fish, around 20 stalls altogether.”

Since 2002, traders have come and gone from Beaconsfield Farmers’ Market. But some have stayed the course and built up a steadfast and loyal following over the last 20 years.

Among them, Chiltern Farm Foods based from Stockings Farm is a mixed arable and livestock family farm of approximately one hundred and thirty acres set in the beautiful countryside of the Chiltern Hills. Their family-run farm has a flock of Suffolk sheep and a mixed herd of traditional breeds of pigs such as Gloucester Old Spot and Tamworth. Livestock are traditionally reared and fed natural diets free from antibiotics, artificial hormones and growth promoters.

They also have their own shoot which, when in season, provides partridge, pheasants and ducks, which are presented oven ready. Throughout the year the local land provides venison, rabbit and pigeon too.

Tom Lidgley, 22, runs their stalls at weekends. He said: “During the week I train to be an opera singer. I’m in my third year studying classical music at the Guildhall School of Music in London. But on weekends, you will find me at the market.”

“I love being outside and interacting with customers,” says Tom, who lives in Seer Green. “It feels good selling a product I know the source of and how it’s been reared and butchered. The high welfare standards are something that I am very proud of.”

Tom’s family have a long history with Stockings Farm. His father was a game keeper at the farm for years rearing the pheasants and partridges.

Tom started helping with feeding the pigs, and then five years ago was asked if he wanted to do markets. “I come home every weekend to work at one of the various markets and on the farm, I still feed the pigs.”


The town crier was out and about

The town crier was out and about


Eadles, Redways Farm

The Eadle family of Redways Farm in the village of Beckley near Oxford, have been producing and selling joints, pies and sausages for two generations. The farm used to supply to supermarkets but the uptick in intensive farming did not make it worth continuing. Now they sell at ten different farmers’ markets a month along the Thames Valley.

Richard Clare, manager at the farm, says: “It’s nice to come off the farm and meet the public. Our product speaks for itself and over the years we have built up a loyal set of customers. They will never miss a market. Our most popular cut is probably pork shoulder but so is game like pheasant or partridge when in season.”

Tastes have changed over the years. There was a time when ‘Bath chaps’ (pickled pigs cheeks) were popular. The pigs cheeks are soaked in brine containing a special blend of herbs - a closely guarded secret recipe that has been in the Eadle family since 1880.

Ricahrd can also source chitterlings, which are boiled intestines - but these are strictly to order. “You still get the odd order from people who grew up on them and remember their mums cooking chitterlings.”


Getting to know some of the animals

Getting to know some of the animals


Brookleas Fish Farm

Brookleas Fish Farm is a small, independently run farm based in East Hendred, Oxfordshire. Established in 1979 on the Ginge Brook, it is the last trout farm in Oxfordshire where all the fish are reared in fresh chalk water, rising from clear spring sources only a few miles upstream. Tim Lobb took over the lease in 1999, and you can visit the farm to catch your own rainbow trout. If you prefer to eat your catch at the farm you can bring your own BBQ, and all your fish can be cleaned ready for you to cook.

Tim has been at Beaconsfield Farmers’ Market since the beginning and was one of Thames Valley Farmers’ Cooperative’s original committee members. “More or less around the same time, farmers’ markets started to really kick-off and the business changed,” recalls Tim.

“I had been doing a lot of live fish deliveries to rivers, ponds and fishing clubs but then it seemed every town was setting up a farmers’ market. There was an explosion of them and I was attending about 16 a month.”

Today Tim is selling at a more moderate dozen markets around the Thames Valley every month. Over the year he sells around ten tonnes of trout. He runs the business solo, with the occasional help of his teenage children, while his wife looks after the accounts.

“I’ve been hooked on fishing since I was a little boy. I would go off for the day with a packed lunch and go see what I could catch in the River Chess, in Chesham. Sometimes there would be thousands of little fish in the river.”


The day was blessed with beautiful blue skies

The day was blessed with beautiful blue skies