Many of us are giving much more thought to our health and wellbeing since the pandemic and have developed a greater interest in the provenance and traceability of our food. We have also become much more aware of our local community and shown an increasing desire to buy local. We are lucky in Surrey to have an array of wonderful products that are grown and produced locally. What better way can there be to support our local producers than buying food from one of Surrey’s farmers’ markets?
They range from the relatively large monthly markets of Guildford, Farnham and Ripley through to far smaller ones such as the weekly Food Float in Dorking. Those in-between include Cobham, Horsley, Ockley, Reigate and the South West Surrey Farmers’ Market Co-operative – a not-for-profit organisation that sells locally grown or sourced products through markets in Godalming, Haslemere and Milford.
Many of these markets have become a social hub for the local community – such as the monthly farmers’ market in Ripley. Visiting on a wet and windy morning in May, families were out and about despite the rain, stopping to chat and trying or buying from a diverse range of products. There were well over thirty stall holders set out over the Green. Meat, poultry, honey, cheese, breads, biscuits, handmade chocolates, vegetables and plants were all for sale, along with the more unusual items such as microgreens and naturally fermented vegetables. Stalls with wine, beer and even rum were offering tastings along with the very much on-trend probiotic drinks. Joining the queue to buy locally grown asparagus, baby carrots and spinach was well worth the wait. As I left, another queue was building for the fresh fish mobile market where naturally the fish came from a greater distance.
Guildford’s farmers’ market takes place on the High Street on the first Tuesday of every month. It has been thriving since 2000 and has a wide range of local vendors from Guildford and further afield. The layout along the cobbled street is perhaps less family friendly, but the focus of this market is for customers to buy things and perhaps grab a bargain.
A large corn and cattle market was once a feature of Dorking High Street while a poultry market was regularly held in South Street where the famous ‘Dorking Chickens’ were sold. These have been more recently succeeded by a monthly artisan market and a weekly small general market. The Friday I visited there were some half dozen traders, selling plants, fresh fish, household goods, fruit and vegetables. Sadly, local produce seemed thin on the ground.
However, Dorking still offers access to local farmers and other suppliers through the weekly Food Float; a not-for-profit company staffed by volunteers. It has been operating since 2010 and offers a wide range of locally sourced produce all crammed onto an old-fashioned stand rather like a milk float. There was an incredible range of dairy, meat, conserves, bread and vegetables along with some more unusual items such as locally ground speciality coffee and dried fruit crisps. It really is all about local produce, with just a few items coming from across county borders. I caught up with Maddie who runs the operation asking her how lockdown had affected their trade. She explained they managed to do extremely well, switching much of their operation to home deliveries as well as donating produce to local families.
With sustainable living and a growing interest in our local communities firmly on the agenda, farmers’ markets are hopefully very much here to stay.