At the back end of May this year the TTHW Food Google Group whipped into a frenzy of life. The reason? The topic of local markets had been broached in connection with a letter published in the Bucks Free Press. The letter writer had hinted of disappointment that there were no local-producer markets in the town. Now doubt this may have been in response to the Italian Market that was prominent at the Mayoral Weighing Ceremony and May Fayre.

So in the interest of ‘social reporting’ we thought it would be diverting if we looked at that discussion to see what different people thought. It kicked off on Saturday 26th May when the local shop Clarabella raised the issue on Facebook. They were shocked that the letter-writer appeared unaware of the monthly local craft market held under the Guildhall. They were surprised because the same issue of the BFP also had an advert for the market in it! I posted the concern onwards to the Google Group to see what people had to say.

The immediate response from one group member was conciliatory: “Frogmoor had an Italian market to add colour to the area. And yes, a local market might have been more appropriate to blend in with a local tradition but where would the stalls have come from?”

It was then pointed out that the May Fayre was done on a “shoestring” before it was added that: “Bear in mind that next year there will be no town centre partnership. Either [HWBIDCo] will be successful and the town centre businesses will be funding town management to revitalise the town centre – or – it will fail because too many businesses feel that they are paying sufficient in rates already and really cannot cope with any more.”

All good points as we illustrated in a recent Blog. At this point it is worth noting that the Farmers’ Market on Frogmoor had been a cause of some mutual dissatisfaction between organisers and the then Town Centre Partnership. At its demise there was a hope that it could be continued in limited fashion as a speciality market on Church Street. Another group member suggested that: “…rather than try to re-instate a Farmer’s Market there could be some way in which local food businesses could participate in the regular market. Maybe with a reduced rate to start and not having to necessarily make a regular commitment. Bringing food, and particularly good local food, into the market might encourage more shoppers. And it would be a return to the traditional ethos of the market.”

At this point I should raise the experience in Chesham [http://cheshamintransition.org.uk/]: “Chesham Local Produce Market was established a year and a half ago in a partnership between Transition Town Chesham and Chesham Town Council. The market was founded on Transition Town principles, with the aim of making local food, drink and crafts more readily available to Chesham residents, thus reducing the community’s food miles and supporting local businesses. The majority of traders come from within a 10-mile radius of the town…”

It has been so successful that is has been officially been recognised as Britain’s most environmentally-friendly market. The market swept the boards at the “How Green Is Your Market?” competition run by the National Market Traders Federation, winning both the Southern Region as well as the overall National prize. Why them? Why not High Wycombe?

A third member of the Google Group waded-in and wrote: “High Wycombe is not regarded as a viable outlet by many local producers… In my opinion, traditional monthly Farmers Markets are not the way forward anyway. Instead locally-produced food needs to permeate into the regular, accessible food-market; whether this is as part of the trice-weekly regular market, or through a Local Roots expanded to sell a wider range of products, or even through a chain with a genuinely-local sourcing system.”

A fourth added an interesting spin: “…the business concept of a Farmer’s Market would never have got funding from any of the dragons on TV. The reasons of why it would fail were and are obvious. The way the BBC promoted local products was never through Farmer’s Markets. They always talked about ‘in-season foods’.”

We then had a fifth response from the owner-manager of Local Roots: “…many producers are wary of investing time and money to bring their produce to Wycombe due to a perceived lack of custom. When I started Local Roots, I heard the same, but I now I am serving people locally-sourced breakfast and lunch foods every day and will hopefully serve more and more. We are putting thousands of pounds each month into local producers by buying and selling their produce. Many of them would not have the capacity to supply to supermarkets, nor would many of them want to. Local food sold through supermarkets does not actually keep much money in the local economy.”

At this point I added: “…it SEEMS as is almost every surrounding small town and village has a Farmer’s market. Maybe that is the wrong impression. I wonder if the question is really “why not in High Wycombe?””

One of our members analysed it like this: “If Farmer Markets thrive in small towns & villages, it is because they are the most sophisticated shops around when there is no supermarket.”

So, are supermarkets the problem? Let us not forget the Berks, Bucks, Milton Keynes and Oxon Food Group [http://www.local-food.net/] It lists 26 Farmers’ Markets within its domain including the ones at Beaconsfield, Marlow, Little Chalfont and Princes Risborough. Then there is the Thames Valley Farmers’ Market Co-operative [http://www.tvfm.org.uk/] which covers South Bucks. You can also hunt around on http://www.localfoodadvisor.com to find more. Not that I found much. Readers who are interested might be better off going to www.food-on-our-doorstep.org.uk and go direct to suppliers listed there. But it is not the same thing as a local-produce food market. The nearest thing we have is the shop Local Roots.

This kind-of brings us back full circle to Clairabella [http://www.clairabella.co/] and their wonderful monthly craft market. We hope to join them at some point. We know it might not feed hungry bellies but it is genuinely local. There are always options but judging from the views of our people contributing to our Food Group, they are not at all optimistic about a local food market in the Town. Maybe Chesham is the exception. Let us hope the success of Local Roots can persuade people otherwise. We’ll see on Bank Holiday Monday August 27th 2012 just how much colour our own local food vendors/producers can bring to the town at the Wycombe Harvest 2012 [www.wycombe-harvest.co.uk]. Until then, enjoy our local economy. It needs you.

To respond to this blog go to http://www.post-carbon-living.com/blog/index.php/2012/06/08/local-producer-markets/ or drop us a line on Twitter (twitter.com/TTWycombe) or Facebook (facebook.com/TTWycombe) or via our web site at www.transition-wycombe.org.uk. You can hear Mark talk about the future of food shopping in High Wycombe as part of his talk to the High Wycombe Society on the 6th July at the Guildhall. You can next meet Transition Town High Wycombe at the Hamilton School Fete on Saturday 16th June. We look forward to meeting you.

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