Recently in Farmers' Markets Category

08.04.02 place laid for dinner 140x78 010a.jpg Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water.... Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?

Modern society has moved from food as nutrition and survival to food as an element of our leisure experience. Until recently it's been seen by many as an issue to be left to dieters or even ‘health freaks’.

But now people are beginning to ask what food's about. The immediate answer to this question could be, it’s all very confusing. There are 'facts' and there are, it seems, 'food factoids'; and there are some consequences for action, when we think things through....

Here are some general headings and questions about food which may help:


Nutrition (Should we eat it?)
Strange as it may seem, for most adults there is still more concern about calorific value and ‘losing weight’ than there is about the nutritional value of what we eat. Almost everyone wants to be slim; yet despite concerns in many parts of the world about obesity and health relatively few people actually eat their fruit and veg ‘Five A Day'.

We as consumers still don’t fully appreciate nutritional information or understand the significance for our health and well-being of salt and other minerals and vitamins, various sorts of fats, fibre, ‘additives’, sugar, glycaemic index, units of alcohol and so on; and in some respects nor, completely, do the experts.

The healthy eating message is beginning to sink in, but questions around nutritional labelling and how to project the public health message continue to loom large.


Children eat too (Is food for kids especially important?)
Even (especially) for children, the health impact of being overweight, along with issues around longer-term well-being and educational outcomes, are now major concerns, as Jamie Oliver and his School Dinners campaign keep reminding us.

It is not altogether clear however that poor children necessarily have ‘worse’ diets than better off ones – possibly because even wealthier children eat ‘the wrong things’, albeit from choice (kids of all sorts it seems won’t eat their greens). But perhaps some groups consume ‘nicer’ food than others, even though the direct nutritional value - or not - of food consumed by children may (sometimes) vary independently of income.

So what more if anything needs to be done about family eating patterns, or advertising food to children, on the television and elsewhere? How much value should we put on meals together as a way to promote family well-being and cohesion?

And how important, as a good start, is breast-feeding? Should we as a society do more to encourage it?

Or should we emphasise exercise more than nutrition, to protect children's physical and mental health?


Organic? GM? Nano? Sell-by date? (Is it wholesome?)
Confusion reigns when we look at the science behind modern food production.

Is organicWho says so, and why is it so pricey?) What about free-range? What's a superfood? And do superfoods really exist?

Has the product we're about to eat, or an antecedent of it, been genetically modified? Is that good or bad? – and for whom? consumers, farmers or other people in the developing world? Also, how has it changed the food?

What of new techniques? Are any food nanotechnologies involved? Whatever would they be for? Are they good or dangerous?

Who decides ‘sell-by’ dates? And by what criteria?

Can we trust the Food Standards Agency, the government and European legislation and everybody else involved in food regulation and statutory labelling? What about the consumer organisations and the supermarkets? Who knows best?


Presenting, preserving and not wasting our food (Is tinned OK and who needs packaging?)
How can we tell whether tinned food is as good as frozen or fresh? How much packaging is required for hygiene and how much is, for instance, simply there to make food look good?

What's the relative energy and resource cost of different ways of preserving food?

And, crucially, how can we ensure that food we buy is not wasted? At present one third of food purchased - in restaurants, shops or wherever - in the UK alone is simply thrown away: hence the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Perhaps even with today's relatively higher prices we are more careful about food if we're locavors, when we know locally who grew or prepared it, and where, than when we don't?


Food miles (Does it cost the earth?)
Food travels the world in strange ways. We (in the UK) get tomatoes and lamb from the other side of the globe, yet we also grow them ourselves.

How to tell people usefully about the food mile cost of what they eat may be a moot point. It’s not just how many miles, or even carbon footprint: it takes some eight units of grain to produce one unit of beef; but some people still reckon that good value - including, no doubt, growing numbers of consumers in China and India, who have a preference for an affluent Western diet.

So sometimes the real cost or value can only be calculated by comparing what would happen if foods of equivalent nutritional or other sort of value were produced in a different way. And how would you put that on a label?


Biofuels (Is growing 'food for cars' acceptable?)
We all know that we're using too much oil, charging around in cars and planes when often we don't need to.

Biofuels seemed for a while to be the perfect way out of this - grow crops to substitute for more usual oils. But now, as the UK's Chief Scientist has said, we know there are costs too; some biofuels are neither sustainable, nor ethical.

And on top of this we must acknowledge that biofuels, like food for people, takes up valuable land space. The question is, what's the 'right' balance - if there is such a thing?


Water used (Will it increase global tensions?)
There is an emerging awareness that food is mainly water, and that water is the also the most precious (and sometimes wasted) commodity in its production.

If the beef-to-grain carbon ratio is high, the equivalent water ratio is many times more so. (Let us pass on the comlex issues around food for domestic animals and pets - there is an important balance to acknowledge here between these animals' functions as sources of security and comfort for people, and their costs to the environment - but who has looked at this balance?)

There are those who believe that water, not oil, will trigger the next global disputes; but as yet few of us have thought how to approach the global issues of water scarcity and food.


Food prices (Can we afford it?)
The cost of food against income has fallen for most of us in the first world over recent years. Now it’s beginning to increase again to more traditional levels – though it will probably stabilise - as global issues such as draught, climate change and biofuels impact on the market.

Food habits have changed from agrarian times, but often seem nonetheless to lag behind the reality of what's available, and may say more about cultural expectations or how a person ate when they were young, than about what's now regarded as 'best' for them (or, indeed, with modern advertising the converse may also be true on occasion).

Perhaps people need to know about less expensive and more nutritious alternative foods, if the ones they’re used to become more expensive, or may now be known to be less 'healthy'? But who can best tell them?


Commercial advantage and competition (Do supermarkets cause ‘food deserts?)
Allied to this is now a fear that supermarkets placed in disadvantaged or poor areas will result in so-called food deserts, where poor people can no longer afford to buy even the basics of a decent diet.

But some observers say that food deserts are really different types of access, or actually an urban myth or 'factoid'. Evidence for these food deserts is to date far inconclusive – indeed, some research indicates that when supermarkets come to poorer areas, both the economy and local people’s diets may improve.

So how can we indicate economic ‘value’ and nutritional benefit in the contexts of where people live, what they expect to eat and how they get access to their food?


Customs, symbols and traditions (What sort of foods for whom?)
Shared food has always been a way of bonding - we cut cakes and 'raise a glass', offer potlatch, drink tea and conduct many other ceremonies across the world to denote belief, position or togetherness.

Then there's the fascinating question of why different people in different places and at different times eat different sorts of food. Sometimes it's easy to explain - 'luxury' and difficult to obtain foods are reserved in almost all cultures and communities for conspicuous consumption on special occasions, for instance - but often there are other styles and patterns to eating too.

And what do we know about 'healthy' diets across the world? Why do people in some places live longer and fitter lives than others? What traditions and customs help us keep our communities intact? And is any of what we might learn about customs and habits of food consumption transposable from one community or culture to another?


Seasonal, allotments and home grown (Should we grow it ourselves?)
Locally produced foodin season' is the new mantra, but it can’t be the whole story. There are many localities which can’t provide the full spectrum of nutritional need. Varied diets often require varied sources.

Nonetheless, an appreciation of the cycles of nature helps us to understand how our food is produced and what makes it special. ‘Seasonal’ recipes draw attention to the possibility of ingredients with a low carbon footprint, just as allotments, smallholdings and local market gardens offer the possibility of learning about how what we eat grows.

Producing and sourcing food locally may not resolve all our problems, but they certainly have their place in the spectrum of things we as consumers can enjoy and need to know. How about allotments for everyone who wants one (there are long waiting lists in some places), and special efforts to grow – and eat - vegetables and fruit in schools and other community locations?


The food economy (How does all this fit into UK plc?)
There are many things to think about here; just ask the politicians, farmers and market gardeners. And that's before we get to talk about European subsidies and farming compensation packages...

That however is not the whole story. Slowly, we are grasping the interconnections between the economic impacts and needs of farmers and growers, and how official policies affect the welfare of the wider rural and urban economies. Never again, hopefully, will problems like foot and mouth be addressed without understanding the fragile complexities of the rural economy as such; and hopefully too in future the wider public will perceive the business and scientific complexities of matters such as animal vaccination.

But let’s understand that not all food needs to be produced in rural areas. There’s plenty of scope also for townspeople to develop opportunities and skills via commercial companies and social enterprises around food, as is evident from the popularity of city-based organic foodstores, local vegetable deliveries and farmers’ markets... not to mention the universal interest in restaurants and cafes in modern day society!


Food, farms and famine (What about the developing world?)
If opportunities for stabilising the food economy remain to be developed efficiently, effectively and well in Western economies, how much more so is this true for those parts of the globe where even the grain supply is critically under-resourced, and where water and food are in desperately short supply. These were the sorts of concerns of the Downing Street Food Summit in early 2008.

Many people would like reassurance that the food they purchase is ethically sourced and gives a fair return to the farmers who produced it. And we need to understand much more about the food supply chain, as Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy has been saying for years.

Movements such as Fairtrade are gaining wider recognition – plus a greater share of commercial shelf-space - and are critical to our understanding of food as a global issue.


Sustainability and ‘food security’ (Will there be enough food for everyone?)
There are those who fear we are sleepwalking into a global food disaster. We need to find ways of adjusting our eating habits (and other consumption) without delay.

Currently it’s said that humankind acts a though we had three planets-worth of resources at our disposal, not just one. And that's before we start to look at how population is increasing (in the UK as well as almost everywhere else).

It is also suggested that, in contrast to the current situation, the UK (and doubtless numbers of other nations) could with ease be self-sufficient for food if everyone were vegetarian - even though our lifestyle in the Western world is many times as water and carbon intensive as that of people in developing countries. Veganism, of course, is even more effective as a way of feeding everyone. Becoming 'selfsufficient-ish' (and largely vegetarian-ish?) can be achieved in most, except perhaps the most extreme, locations.

These last few observations offer a rather pointed context for all the other matters discussed above.


Read more about Food
and about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

What questions and views do you have about food?

The New Harvest Festival

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Seasonal vegetables harvest festival pumpkins 2520 (88x103).jpg This is the time of year when churches urban and rural across the nation urge us to attend their services for Harvest Festival. For many of us however this annual celebration is now marked more secularly, observed at one remove, via our newspapers, rather than physically in our communities. Media celebration of seasonal food is the order of the day.

The Guardian, like other similar publications, is hot on seasonal food. A story in that newspaper today gives a flavour of that theme: 'Green' shopping possible on a budget, watchdog says.

What then follows is that irresistible combination of knocking the supermarkets (fair enough if they're not up to scratch), going rustic with references to in-season fruit and veg. (why not, it really is good for you), and angst about affordability and carbon footprint (fair enough again).

Contemporary perspectives
So here is the contemporary version of We plough the fields and scatter...

Way back over the centuries people have known about crop rotation and storage and the seasons, and have celebrated all this with Harvest Festivals of one sort or another. Now we know about food miles, sustainability and ethical buying.

Appreciating our sustenance
This is the better informed (or at least more techno) version of the wisdom of the ages, translated for those of us who hope for the future but have no bedrock of faith on which to base an annual thanksgiving.

Perhaps it doesn't matter how we demarcate the changing seasons and the beneficence they offer. What does matter is that at least we notice.

Pinhao smallholding & boat 2007 (small) 115x117.jpg This week is U.K. National Allotments Week, promoting 'the awareness and availability of allotments both locally and nationally, to show ... the strength of support and interest for the heritage of allotment culture.' This excellent initiative is quite new, but allotments themselves have stood the test of time. Here is an example from rural Portugal, on a tributary of the Duoro River, of a smallholding which has probably been in place for centuries.

Pinhao smallholding, Duoro River, Portugal August 2007 (480x439).jpg
























You may also like to see these photographs and articles:

Early Summer In Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

Cherry Blossom For May Day In Sefton Park, Liverpool

Wirral's Ness Gardens

Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Flowers In Pots For All

Liverpool Botanic Garden, Edge Lane

Visiting Valencia

Love Parks Week!

Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?

Read more about National Allotments Week here: National Allotment Gardens Trust

Hope Street Farmers' Market 06.11.19 (small).jpgThe regular calendar of Farmers' Markets in Hope Street has at last begun. From now on the third Sunday every month is scheduled as Market Day for Hope Street Quarter. Farmers' Markets are something different to look forward to: a great day out for adults and children alike, with fun opportunities to learn where our food comes from and who grows it.

H.St. Farmers Market 2.jpgAfter a false start in October, yesterday was the long-awaited commencement of the regular calendar [see schedule at the end of this article] of Hope Street Farmers' Markets. At last, with luck, we have lift-off, and not a moment too soon.

And we were incredibly lucky with the weather, brilliant sunshine for the duration, not even really cold. The atmosphere of the event was cheerful and relaxed, just the right ambiance for a happy family Sunday outing - though I have to say I was surprised just how few children were actually around....

It's really good to see the grown-ups enjoying themselves in such a time-honoured and positive way, but are we missing a bit of a trick here if we don't bring the kids? Perhaps someone will begin now to think how this could be an occasion for them as well. It's not often the opportunity arises naturally in the city centre for youngsters to meet people who have themselves grown the food and prepared the produce displayed before us.

Varied and fresh
H.St.Farmers Market 7 (veg).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 8 (cheese).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 10 (romanesca cauliflower).jpgHaving said that, here was produce for everyone. Vegetable and fruit - including a variety of cauliflower (romanesca, a brassica with stunning tiny, spiral green florets) that I'd never seen before - plus cheeses, food of all sorts to eat right now, and much else, including candles and preserves for the coming festive season. Judging from the public response, everyone loves this sort of browsing and shopping.

One of the many attractions of farmers' markets is that much of this produce had been grown or made by the actual people who were selling it - not a connection which is often so direct these days, when much of what we buy comes shrink-wrapped and complete with a fair number of attached food miles.

H.St.Farmers Market 4 (.Xmas).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 5 (preserves).jpgThis was an opportunity for locally-based people to purvey their wares; hand-made goods and food which may well still have been in the field a few hours before.

Trading busily
H.St.Farmers Market 6 (Farmers).jpgThe people running the stalls were pleased to be there, trade was brisk. I suspect that over time the current size of the market will grow considerably, if the regulations allow - already it stretches all the way along the Hope Street wall of Blackburne House.

We know of course that, locals though some of the growers and sellers may be, Geraud Markets, the organisation behind the venture, is big business; but someone has to organise all the detailed arrangements which these events entail. It seems Geraud now have a contract with Liverpool Council to do just that on several sites around the city.

Knowing more and feeling good
That however is only part of the story. This is the sort of enjoyable meeting-friends event that offers, especially, young people in the city a chance to see that fruit and vegetables don't of necessity arrive covered in plastic.H.St. Farmers Market 14 (Minako).jpg

It gives us a feel, too, for seasonal food. It reminds us, walking out in the open air as we make our purchases, that there is a cycle to things; we can eat for a whole year without bringing produce from across the world, should we decide to do avoid doing so. We can be 'eco-', and enjoy, at the same time.

The market reminds us about nutritional quality - seeing produce presented so directly perhaps also helps us to think more carefully about what we are actually eating. Of course, food sold in supermarkets can also be fresh and nutritious - canned can be as good as 'fresh' - but the connection with its production is less overt.

Encouraging a healthy life-style
H.St. Farmers Market 15 (children).jpgBy a strange co-incidence, just today there have been articles in the local Daily Post about vegetables and health -the local Primary Care Trust has a Taste for Health campaign -and The Guardian, which offers thoughts by Zoe Williams on 'Vegetables and how to survive them').

Liverpool people have the worst health in England and we owe it to our children to make sure their diet is as good as it can possibly be, encouraging them to understand the connection between what they eat and where it comes from. How better could we do it than by bringing them to a farmers' market where they can see for themselves what it's all about?

Liverpool City Council have contracted with Geraud to provide farmers' markets. Perhaps they can now follow the example of the authorities in continental Europe (where Geraud began) such as Valencia and Aix-en-Provence, where, as I have seen for myself, the local markets make children really welcome?

It would do us all good, in every sense of the word.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Calendar of Geraud Farmers' Markets in Liverpool [subject to change, please contact to check as below]:
Monument Place Farmers' Market (Lord Street) ~ Every 1st & 3rd Saturday of the month
Lark Lane Farmers' Market ~ Every 4th Saturday of the month
Hope Street Farmers' Market (Blackburne House end) ~ Every 3rd Sunday of the month

Other Geraud Markets in Liverpool
:
Broadway (Indoor) Monday ~ Saturday
Garston ~ Friday
Great Homer Street ~ Saturday
Monument Place ~ Thursday, Friday & Saturday
Speke ~ Thursday
St Johns' (Indoor) Monday ~ Saturday
Tuebrook ~ Thursday & Saturday
Toxteth ~ Tuesday
For more information contact: 0151 233 2165 / info@geraudmarkets.co.uk

Hope Street's 1st Farmers' Market (small) 05.10.22 005.jpg The Farmers' Market scheduled for Liverpool's Hope Street today has been cancelled because of pressures on officialdom. This is not a new scenario when it comes to efforts to enhance the local community's engagement and enterprise. What could those 'in charge of granting permissions' do to prove themselves, rather, as partners and enablers?

The Daily Post this morning reports that the intended monthly Farmers' Markets in Hope Street (third Saturday of the month) willl now begin in November, not today. After two very successful test runs (last October and during this year's Hope Street Festival - though why not as we suggested before then, I don't know) there was a real head of steam for the event today. People just love markets, with all their variety and colour!

But it seems the authorities can't cope... not enough time for the policing (in Hope Street? - probably Liverpool's most sedate throughfare till now at least), not enough notice, and so forth.... and the Farmers' Market organisers, Geraud Markets, are upset.

Not a new problem
Sadly, this 'not enough notice' and / or 'can't be done without big payments' scenario is not new. It caused the delay of this year's Hope Street Festival, originally planned for June, and it has been the undoing of several other events along Hope Street (as well, I suspect, as elsewhere).

It is fair to say that perhaps Geraud Markets, who have a joint venture arrangement with the City Council, might well have made appropriate contact with the authorities earlier - they are a big organisation - but that doesn't really explain the history of City Council 'can't do' which seems to overarch so many attempts to engage and involve people in our local community. The thwarted efforts are too many to list here.

Basic objectives put aside
Whether you look at the very worthy stated objectives of the Farmers' Markets joint venture with Liverpool City Council, or at those of much smaller organisations such as HOPES: The Hope Street Association, you will find a serious intent to improve the health, environment, general quality of life and enterprise climate of our Quarter.

The City Council may well claim to endorse these fine words - and individually some of its officers certainly go the extra mile in doing that - but overall their actions speak don't do much to demonstrate the commitment when it matters.

Supporting local communities - or not?
The question that perhaps those in charge at Council HQ have to ask is, 'What are we actively doing to help? And is it actually enough?' No private organisation or individual is obliged to support the enterprise and engagement of Liverpool communities, and some of us feel sorely tested. But it seems the message still isn't getting through.

Farmers' Markets have a special place in city life. They encourage us to feel part of a community, yet when we go to these markets we also feel that as individuals we are attending to our health and leisure needs. Farmers' Markets may indeed sometimes in reality be big business, but they fill a gap in our fragmented urban lives.

Farmers' Markets seem to be all the rage in Liverpool at the moment. They started in the ciy centre (by the Victoria Monument), and recently sprouted up in Lark Lane to the South of the city. Now, this Sunday, there is at last to be one in Hope Street, the cultural quarter. All the recent evidence suggests that, weather permitting, this too will be a big success.

So why is everyone in the city so enthusiastic about Farmers' Markets? Several possible answers to this question come to mind:

Farmers' Markets make us feel healthy. Whether the produce is actually fresher and more nutritious (or beneficial in other ways, if not edible) than produce we can buy in supermarkets, we willingly go along with the idea that it must be.

Farmers' Markets make us feel part of a community; we throng around, perhaps sharing comments with perfect strangers about what's on offer, and aware of the shared purpose in our being there. Yet we also feel like individuals - not for us the pre-packaged routinised stuff of the big stores. We are making a positive, personal choice to buy, or perhaps just to consider buying, produce which feels, against supermarket standards, just a bit exotic.

Farmers' Markets take us back in time. We imagine, more or less accurately, that this until quite recently is how people have always conducted their financial transactions. There's a rusticness about what we're doing which harks back to a supposed golden age which is in contemporary times usually only seen on Christmas cards.

Farmers' Markets are ecological. If we can, we walk to them (or at least park the car a distance away), clutching cane baskets and imagining, correctly or otherwise, that what we intend to buy is organic.

Farmers' Markets let us feel authentic. We can actually talk, and maybe even negotiate our purchase, with the people who are seling their own goods - which we naturally suppose they have also themselves carefully crafted. The goods are authentic. The person-to-person transaction is authentic. We must be authentic.

And Farmers' Markets are interesting. We are often not sure what we'll find when we get there. Who will turn up this time? What will they have to sell? We attend trustingly, purses speculatively at the ready in our pockets; not for us on this occasion the usual boring shopping list!

It might be surmised from this list that I have a problem with Farmers' Markets. Not so at all. They have a real part to play in the lives of many city people, just as they always have had in more rural contexts.

It's the function these markets perform in our splintered urban communities which fascinates me. They may in fact sometimes be the visible parts of very large business operations, but they are perceived as 'small', micro-enterprises undertaken by real people. They make us feel special, they spark our imaginations and they activiate our interest in important aspects of health and community.

Don't miss the next Liverpool Farmers' Markets. Be sure to be in Lark Lane on Saturday, or in Hope Street on Sunday!