6 November 1998

Markets need good strategy

FARMERS markets are an excellent way to put producers in touch with local consumers, but council regulation is needed to ensure there is a coherent development strategy, according to the NFU.

In the south east, the union says the number of farmers markets has increased dramatically. While that has offered an excellent way of putting people back in touch with British produce, and British farmers, there have been problems.

"There have been cases of farmers markets running too close to each other. And, while there may be interest, you need a strong overall strategy and about 3000 customers to make a go of it," said David Butterworth of the NFU.

At a seminar this week, organised by the unions south east region to address the issues, 25 local authorities were represented.

Gareth Jones of the Farm Retail Association, who has studied farmers markets in the UK and abroad, outlined the regulation that was needed, covering issues such as certification schemes, how to encourage producers to support markets and developing an overall strategy.

"A council needs to take the overall concept and make it appeal to the customers through the local media and so on. There must be standards and advisory leaflets for stallholders, and perhaps farmers could open their farm to their customers for one day a year, it is an idea that has been very successful in Canada," said Mr Jones.

Harriet Festing, of Wye College, who is employed by Ashford Borough Council on environmental projects, added: "It is not just about produce, it is personalities that count. People do not go to farmers markets to do their ordinary weekly shopping, there are discerning customers from all income brackets, depending on the type of market." &#42