I would imagine that few of us would decry a Farmer’s Market and many more look forward to their weekly or monthly attendance at a nearby town square. It was not always so. Their early appearance was sometimes shunned by indigenous shopkeepers, displaying a vehemence normally associated with the arrival of blight or Colorado beetle in a kitchen garden. Although this fear of enforced competition, descending circus-like onto the centre of towns and villages was not without some justification, Farmer’s Markets were slowly accepted as a welcome addition on the food horizon.

Whilst the trading classes worried as to whether their tenuous, retail livelihood was under threat, and locals muttered as to how suitable commercial rent and rates were to be extracted, major supermarkets quietly manoeuvred their red brick architecture into place, as the remaining locals quietly sold their land (with planning permission) to the highest bidders. Such is life and all are blameless, but if the supermarkets make the bulk of their generous margin from the processing of our food, then Farmer’s Markets must stand as a singular beacon to local, fresh and unsullied produce.

I am an advocate of unprocessed food and I am a convert to the dramatic reduction in the length of our food chain, I wish to shake the hand that feeds me not wave at it from a faraway distance. Like some stoic local food retailers, the Farmer’s Market offers a vital opportunity, and I welcome it without hesitation.

One critical ingredient in the purchasing of food is trust; trust in the quality, trust in the producer and trust in the process. Our wandering markets would do well to remind their organisers of this as supermarkets wait with baited breath for any whiff of customer disloyalty emanating from those precious Saturday mornings.

It came to mind as I lapsed giggling on my sofa last week, when The Armstrong and Miller Show on BBC1, provided a musical interlude entitled “Farmer’s Market”. An unapologetic take on Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’ set in a town car park, peopled by Barbour clad Volvo drivers, cavorting to disrespectful but hilarious lyrics. If you missed it I urge you to locate it on YouTube at least. With stallholders rubbing mud into Ikea furniture and soil onto French Brie, charging three times the going rate for tomatoes and boasting of relieving the foolish of their money, it summarised that faintly suspicious murmur that cynics occasionally articulate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afY4v0y4fL4

Under the auspices of The National Farmers Retail and Markets Association, certain laudable guidelines are laid down. That all products on sale should be “caught, reared, brewed, smoked or baked by the stallholder”, is a welcome battle cry although sometimes difficult to maintain, and that the produce should have come “from a defined local area”, may well be open to wide interpretation. Nevertheless such broad brush strokes ensure that the spirit of trust is endemic in the contract as buyer meets seller over a mound of chard or a batch of soda bread. Maintaining such contractual honesty is the key to customer loyalty long after food romance has dwindled and cold winter months have taken the shine off the rural social gathering. Farmers Markets have an unasked for, yet weighty social responsibility. To prosper, they must show us transparent food authenticity whilst supporting a dictum for a society that eschews the ’eat and run’ habits we occasionally adopt in favour of the ‘dine and savour’ mentality. It is this mantra that will be needed to eradicate some unhealthy signs creeping into our dietary landscape, in tandem with the provision of truly authentic foods that Farmer’s Markets can help promote and maintain.

So, as I relish the movement and support with both my feet and my wallet, I must caution the stand that sold me lime Marmalade in a container no bigger than the one my doctor hands out at embarrassing testing times, for a price that Harrods would have been proud to have achieved. All this with an unconcerned manufacture that had no interest in achieving a ‘setting point’ and would have had the W.I. turning in its muslin lined grave. So one is only too aware that complacency could allow the whole wonderful event to drift back to the multiple retailers if vigilance is not maintained and Armstrong and Miller are not to appear prophetic after all. And will someone tell me why a second-hand gold merchant, was allowed entry to my local market, as try as I might I could not spot any “catching, rearing, brewing, baking or smoking” in sight….save only for the Marlborough dangling from his lips that is.