My sister Stephanie is visiting and we went to a Farmer's Market together last Sunday. We bought some bread, some cheese, some pate, a sticky toffee pudding, some bacon, black pudding and sausages, some mutton pies, a chicken and some chocolate with crystallised orange. I always quiz the vendors about what the ingredients are and where they are sourced. I am looking for local produce hand-made with love and passion, and I walk away if I don't get satisfactory answers.
For example we talked to a bloke who made cheeses. He had samples of cheese we could taste, but Stephanie was blown away by the fact that he kept encouraging us to try another, and another. She was more used to the attitude "You can have a taste if you have to, but if you're not going to buy anything, get lost". This cheese guy wasn't desperate for us to buy anything, but he was excited about his cheese and keen to show it off. And rightly so - he made exceptionally beautiful cheese and we bought several different ones from him.
Over the last few days as we have eaten our way through our purchases we have talked about the difference between the food we bought at the farmer's market and food you buy at supermarkets. It really drives home how utterly dire supermarket food is. Even Tesco's so-called "Finest" range. Even "This isn't just food, this is Marks and Spencer's overpriced over-hyped food". It's all nasty in comparison to the real deal. The black pudding from the farmer's market was better by a long way than any black pudding I have ever eaten before. The sausages were divine. The sticky toffee pudding was much better than anything you can buy (but about the same as making it yourself). The mutton pies were beyond compare. We haven't had a duff item yet.
The downside is that farmers' markets are more expensive than supermarkets. And there is a lot in the news at the moment about soaring food prices here in the UK, which may harm farmer's markets as more people search for cheap food rather than quality food. But food is not yet really expensive. In fact food is still really really cheap and has been for decades. In a country where many poor people are overweight, you can see that food must be very cheap.
What is the role of farmer's markets? Are they just a luxury for the middle-classes? If you are really on the breadline, you won't be able to afford farmer's market prices. But I think many people on modest incomes could probably afford to buy great quality meat and cheese from the farmer's market by eating less meat and cooking more from scratch rather than eating ready meals. Of course some families already cook everything from scratch - Bean Sprouts readers probably do this more than most. I know that many Bean Sprouts readers already eat vegetarian at least once a week, which is a great strategy for reducing your food bills and allowing you to buy better quality meat because you are buying less of it. Why not visit your local farmer's market and compare the prices there with your usual supplier. Buy something there and compare the quality with your usual purchasers. Then you can make your own mind up whether it's worth it to your household to buy some things at the farmer's market instead. I've already made my mind up with regards to my household, and I think Stephanie has made her mind up too.