Why local markets are important to the revitalisation of the rural economy.

I have found that local markets are a great way to reach consumers and promote my food and services to them. Markets are also a great way for me to find new ingredients to incorporate into the recipes I prepare for both markets and catering.

The value to me is important as many of my clients are looking for the connection between food that has been prepared with locally sourced ingredients, sometimes free range and organic are an issue, but the “local” characteristic is key. Many people don’t think about it and I think one reason is they see celebrity chefs/cooks/writers talking about “local” but some of these high profile folks are aligned with major high street supermarkets and chains. Its a mixed message and the “local” element gets lost in the branding!

Within the Oxfordshire area, more specifically south Oxfordshire, there is a wealth of producers offering high quality ingredients from vegetables, meat, cheese, drink, etc. The local markets offer a unique opportunity for local communities to find and try these great products but the challenge for the markets is generating the numbers of customers attending these markets.

This was an issue raised in a recent BBC Food Programme on Radio 4. I find it ironic that the supermarkets have gone full circle with the advent of home delivery, local stores and specialist departments. This has seen the decline of the fishmonger, butcher, local shop etc. It has become a priority for me to find new local producers and to work with them wherever I can to  incorporate their product as part of my business.

Another issue for me that I think is lost or ignored, although I hope Mary Portas’ recent report, The Portas Review, will create an improvement in the relationship between shops and market retailers. I have had this discussion several times with a shop owner and their attitude towards producers who use markets to sell their quality product was negative, to say the least. In fact the view was that market retailers are the opportunists and add no value to the high street. I completely disagree and believe strongly that markets and the high street are irrevocably intertwined. The demise of markets from the high street I think can be linked to the declines we have seen in the high street retailers over the last decade. Obviously, the economic whirlwind has also played a part in this decline.

Anecdotally,  I have heard that Worksop recently revived the high street market, which had disappeared several years ago, and the revitalisation of the high street for both market and high street retailers is clear for all to see.  I think that the Mary Portas’ project to regenerate 10 towns high streets with a combination of reducing barriers for market retailers, making it easier for consumers to get into the town, reductions in planning policies and taxes, funding,  etc, will be a great opportunity to see the connection between the two types of retailers and the volumes of consumers entering the town centres to spend money. Perhaps Worksop is a case in point and one that shows it can be done.

In the meantime, I think that there are some councils closer to home who really need to rethink the impact of planning, policies and hanging on to ancient traditions on the current state of the economy in the towns concerned and make some radical changes. I think it is  a waste to see a market square empty on a Saturday – this was a prime shopping time and still is for many, however, the lack of a Saturday market reduces the opportunity for consumers to take the time and go to town to spend. The only beneficiaries are the supermarkets and out of town chains.

There is an opportunity ahead for these towns to make the changes I believe are need to revitalise the economy of their towns. I hope that the councils, retailers, markets and other organisations who can help, make the much needed changes happen!

Please let me know what you think by answering this poll.

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