Alex Handford: Hampshire Life's 2016 Food Hero
PUBLISHED: 11:48 01 August 2017
With 2017's Hampshire Life Food and Drink Awards about to launch, Claire Pitcher spoke to Alex Handford, of Hampshire Farmers' Markets, who won the Food Hero accolade last year, much to her surprise
Last year’s Food Hero award was deservedly taken home by Alex Handford. A familiar face across the county, many people will have met her at their local Hampshire Farmers’ Market. She first started working for Hampshire Farmers’ Markets in 1996 as temporary maternity cover: “I was supposed to be here six months, but I stayed,” she laughs. She’s now business manager, based at Rotherfield Park in East Tisted, where she organises the county’s popular food markets, with at least one taking place every weekend of the year.
Hampshire Farmers’ Markets (HFM) not only fulfils the important role of introducing us to the county’s best producers every Saturday and Sunday, Alex has always shared her commitment to buying local by promoting the way in which it benefits the rural economy. “By coming to the markets and engaging with our producers; finding out how their produce is made and the ingredients they use, customers genuinely want to support our members through the purchases they make and by spreading the word about the quality of ingredients on offer on their doorstep.”
Selling at market is, of course, a major part of being a member of HFM, but as Alex explains: “We’re also here to offer advice, put them in touch with other businesses in the county who might want to buy their produce and help promote them through our own marketing. If our producers are doing well then ultimately we all are. They will attract regular customers at the markets and word of mouth is definitely the route to success.”
Always a smiling face at the markets she runs, her passion is the reason why she was honoured at the 2016 Hampshire Life Food and Drink Awards. “I couldn’t quite believe it when it was announced I was taking the award home. I truly never expected it. To be recognised as a ‘food hero’ feels a little bizarre. I just love our county’s abundance of producers, I truly enjoy spending time with them and introducing new people to them every weekend.”
Alex’s skills don’t end at organising the markets; she’s found exciting ways to bring producers together with the public by organising popular festivals throughout the year. There are two based in the pretty village of Hamble. The first was back in May and the next is on September 2. Following the success of AppleFest last year at Hill Farm, there’s also the Alresford Apple Festival to look forward to on October 15.
“It’s all leading up to our own Hampshire Farmers’ Markets Producer Awards in October,” Alex says. “Where once again we like to turn the spotlight on those of our members who’ve done fantastically well over the last 12 months. This is the general public’s chance to show their appreciation.”
The hard work continues for our outgoing Food Hero: “We have more producers wanting to come to market, I have great plans for our festivals next year and there are regular networking events and workshops to put together.”
How Hampshire Farmers’ Markets got started
Hampshire welcomed its first farmers’ market to Winchester in 1999. Francis Stokes, of Hampshire County Council, discovered Bath’s market and decided, running alongside Hampshire Fare, that there should be a Hampshire farmers’ market.
With help from Mike Smales of Lyburn Cheese and Mike Woodhall, HFM was launched. In 2002, Hampshire County Council gave HFM independence and it became a not-for-profit organisation. The same year, HFM became accredited by FARMA (Farmers Retail and Markets Association), giving customers assurance that markets were affiliated to a respected organisation.
To become a member, producers must meet strict criteria. At least 20 per cent of the ingredients they use must be sourced from the county or within a 20-mile radius. Any produce reared, grown or raised must spend at least 50 per cent of its time with the producer.