Hampshire's farmer's market
PUBLISHED: 16:39 14 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:33 20 February 2013
With the recent E-coli outbreak in Germany last month, there really is no better time to buy British. Luckily enough, Hampshire has one of the best farmer's market networks in the whole of the South East as Tania Tirraoro investigates
Visit a Hampshire town on any weekend and you may well be lucky enough to arrive when one of the countys farmers markets is in full swing. Full of life and community spirit, Hampshire Farmers Markets bring together the best of local food and home-grown enterprise. Everything sold at an HFM market has a provenance from within the county or its close borderlands.
As governments discuss future food security and finding ways to feed our increasing population, thoughts are turning to a more sustainable way of life - and where better than the farmers market that supports the local economy, rather than importing food from abroad with its inevitable food miles. Hampshire Farmers Markets is a not-for-profit organisation that works hard to provide an opportunity for local farmers and producers to make a living, close to home. For many, the market is their main source of income. Some producers have farmed for generations; others are recent converts to providing local food for local people.
From the double garage of their home in Andover, Mark Hoadley and Pauline Donner have created an irresistible line of chocolates and truffles with their company, My Chocolate Bar. They went into the chocolatier business after not being able to find the kind of chocolates they wanted for themselves. Through trial and error, over the course of a year, Pauline and Mark taught themselves how to make truffles using liqueurs from HFM producer, Fonthill Glebe to flavour them. It began as a hobby, but as more and more friends began asking for chocolates, they decided it was time to be more ambitious.
Pauline who with Mark, have three children between them, worked for a lettings agents full time while partner Mark still worked in IT. But as the brand started to take off, Pauline had to reduce her hours so she could manage the new enterprise, she recalls, It was so worthwhile to do it-its gone from strength to strength. Then last year we won two Great Taste Awards after only six months of trading and its propelled us upwards.
In the future, they may move to independent premises, but their converted garage has been transformed into a self-contained chocolaterie, sending delicious smells wafting throughout the house. My Chocolate Bar has changed their lives, says Pauline, Its made me much more relaxed than before. Its so nice getting up in the morning knowing youre going to create something beautiful by the end of the day. The feedback is phenomenal and it gives you drive to carry on.
My Chocolate Bar sells primarily at Hampshire Farmers Markets and online and they have started supplying a few local delis. Theyre now turning their thoughts to whether Mark needs to come into the business himself full time and the need to take on more staff to help. However they are committed to staying small and independent, as they see that as a key strength of their business.
For Toby Bowtell, being a producer of good food is something he never takes for granted. Hes a fourth generation farmer at Home Farm in East Tisted, near Alton, and he came into the business at a young age. He now runs the farm, its Farm Shop, and its stall at Hampshire Farmers Markets, along with other members of the Bowtell family. The first Bowtell arrived in East Tisted to take over Home Farm in 1910. Born in Chawton, Percy Bowtell set about creating a family farm with twelve cows, pigs and sheep and sixty acres of corn. The cows were hand-milked and the milk was transported to the local dairy in Alton.
Today, due to EC regulations on milk and dairy products, they no longer have a dairy herd, but the farm shop has expanded to sell home-reared beef, pork and lamb. Toby himself is also chairman of HFM and spends much of his time helping fellow producers bring their goods to market.
At Home Farm, he is always busy with some aspect of rearing the animals or processing their meat for sale at the Farm Shop or the markets. .
It means a lot to Toby to ensure the animals lead as happy lives as possible he explains, Our farming philosophy is not to use any antibiotic growth promoters or medicated food. We farm in a traditional, free-range mode, with animals grazing on semi-permanent grass in rolling parkland, with trees for shade.
Farming is in Toby Bowtells blood and he knows how lucky he is to be able to make a living from something he loves, This farm has been in our family for generations and I couldnt imagine doing anything else. Its hard work in all weathers but I love it. Im really happy that I can bring local food to local people at the farmers market.
From the city to cider
For other producers, coming to the farmers markets has been a way of moving from the big city rush to enjoying a slice of the good life-even though life is even busier now. For Angus Whitehead, the farmers market has been the making of a new career. Once a surveyor working in London, he used to make cider in his spare time with a friend for a local pub. In 2003, he decided to go it alone and launched Mr Whiteheads Cider. For a while he continued making cider and working in London, but as the cider-making workload increased, he had to make a choice, Its one of those things, that if I didnt dedicate more time to it, it would fail. Then the business became bigger and I had to start employing people, explains Angus.
Angus started by using his own supply of apples, but as the business expanded, he now uses Blackmoor Farm as their supplier. As well as regular farmers markets, they have also secured a contract to supply apple juice to Hampshire schools and care homes. They also supply gift bottles to Boots and BHS, increasing their reach beyond Hampshire.
The farmers market has given Angus a chance to be his own boss and control his own destiny
Im optimistic and see a future. I can make my own plans and steer my own direction. But, he says, despite his plans to expand, which include supplying 800 Weatherspoons pubs for their National Beer Festival, Angus says the farmers market is key and a great testing ground, You get to meet the people who buy your products and that keeps you in touch.
Visiting the farmers market is a delight for thousands of people each weekend, but for the producers, it means much more than that. Livelihoods are made and fast friendships are formed with other producers. Alex Handford, the Business Manager of HFM said, We believe that supporting local producers is vitally important to ensure we have food on our tables in future decades. HFM has a solid structure including a Board of Directors to ensure that our food stays true to its roots and continues to provide opportunities for local employment.
Proof of this is Winchesters recent award of Best UK Urban Farmers Market for 2011. Many people believe nurturing small producers is the way forward and HFM is doing its best to make that a reality.
Dates for your diary
Sunday 3rd - Petersfield & Romsey
Saturday 9th - Alton Food Festival
Sunday 10th - Winchester
Saturday 16th - Port Solent Food Festival
Sunday 17th - Southsea & Andover
Sunday 24th - Bishops Waltham
Sunday 31st - Winchester
Sunday 7th - Petersfield & Romsey Food Festival
Saturday 13th - Alton
Sunday 14th - Winchester
Sunday 21st - Southsea & Andover
Sunday 28th - Winchester
Monday Bank Holiday 29th - Hythe
Monday Bank Holiday 29th - Odiham Food Festival
Sunday 4th - Petersfield & Romsey
Saturday 10th - Alton
Sunday 11th - Winchester
Sunday 18th - Southsea &
Andover Food Festival
Saturday 24th - Port Solent Food Festival
Sunday 25th - Winchester
Saturday 1st & 2nd - Winchester Cathedral
Sunday 2nd - Petersfield & Romsey
Saturday 8th - Alton
Sunday 9th - Winchester
Sunday 16th - Southsea & Andover
Sunday 23rd - Bishops Waltham
Sunday 30th - Winchester
Sunday 6th - Petersfield & Romsey
Saturday 12th - Alton
Sunday 13th - Winchester
Sunday 20th - Southsea & Andover
Sunday 27th - Winchester
Sunday 4th - Petersfield & Romsey
Saturday 10th - Alton
Sunday 11th - Winchester
Sunday 18th - Southsea & Andover