"Away from the brightly lit aisles of the supermarket, the changes of the seasons can be more easily seen. To really embrace the seasonality in our national diet, we need to visit a local farm shop or produce market" - says Anne Harnan, Onolla’s Seasonal Food Editor
Historically, markets have always been a place where the community comes together; a traditional way of selling, where producers meet and customers can find the variety of goods they need. Drawn from a locality where food miles are limited and sales benefit the local economy, markets are a place to converse with others.
Today, markets have changed little, but modern consumers rely so much more on the convenience of bigger stores and year-round supplies from overseas. And yet, in the last year, we have seen how fragile the larger supply chains can be and how customer demand led to national shortages of some goods.
Our smaller, local independent retailers have been much better placed to serve us. I’ve spoken with many independent food retailers over the last 12 months and all have repeated the same story: amidst the panic buying, they didn’t struggle with supplies. They had built good relationships with their producers, they could move quickly to meet demand and were in touch with their local customer base. As a result, they were able to meet higher demands but also evolve their business and better serve their customers.
Now, as we hope to emerge from this pandemic, we should continue to support these local businesses and our community market places. Every pound we spend at their stalls and shops is invested back, creating a true circular economy.
Shopping locally and supporting our community markets has never been more important. We should continue to concentrate on our community supply chains; they looked after us when we needed them. With our support, they will flourish and grow, enhancing all our lives and the community around us. These are the people who were there for us during the pandemic and it’s only right that we support their businesses now – we would have struggled without them.
And for us, too, shopping locally can be so much more than just filling our cupboards – a visit to a market is full of sensory experiences.
Anne's tips to get the most from your shop.
- Enjoy the colours, shapes and textures on display, from pyramids of piled-on oranges and shiny apples to the knobbly texture of Jerusalem artichokes, the symmetrical lines of fresh eggs and the rainbow of greens in spring brassicas.
- Take time to chat to the stallholders and discover their provenance. Are they a family-run business with years of heritage or a newly formed company, following a passion and preserving a craft? They will be a fount of wisdom on their product and often enjoy imparting their knowledge.
- Think sustainably and take your own sturdy bags – so obviously simple but easy to forget. Fresh produce can be heavier than expected, especially when you have been tempted by seasonal delights and bought more than you expected to.
- Ask for recommendations. Not sure how to cook a cut of meat or how best to serve something? Is this a cheese to cook with or best eaten paired with fruit? Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and tips. Stallholders appreciate friendly interest – it’s their time to get out and meet their customer base face to face, so every question gives them feedback, to work on bettering their product or inspire new innovation.