Finding local food at the Chatsworth Market

May 8, 2012

With so much selection for food grown in Britain, I was curious to see how many of the vendors at the nearby Chatsworth Market sourced their products from within a 100-mile radius of London. Although there was little from farms within London itself, producers near the GLA were well-represented, with everything from sausages made near Derbyshire to apple juice pressed near Kent being sold.

“The bagged fruit is really popular, because it’s actually a pear and apple farm, and has 250 varieties, so we have a different selection each week and the fruit’s very popular,” said Kirsty Buck from Perry Court Farms in Kent, who was selling a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

Also popular were Perry Court’s heritage “pink fur” potatoes.

Pink Fur potatoes from Perry Court Farms

“They’re a really old potato, not many people grow them any more,” she said. “They’ve got quite a distinctive flavour  — they taste like potato, but they have a slight garlic-y or nutty taste to them. They’re really interesting.”

Lillie O’Brien from the London Borough of Jam sources fruit for her jams as much as possible from the local area.

“Usually in the berry season, I even go down to the Hackney Marshes and get blackberries from there,” she said. “The rhubarb’s from Yorkshire and grown indoors. It’s ‘forced’ rhubarb, which has unusual pink colouring because it hasn’t seen actual sunlight, but that’s very seasonal.”

When she can’t find a local fruit variety and has to source from abroad — mainly France and Italy — she tries to get as close to the UK as possible.

“I try not to get ingredients from too far away,” she said. “Someone tried to sell me some plums from South Africa the other week, but I’m not buying anything that’s been on a plane for that long. If you have a plum come from summer somewhere and it’s been on a plane, it just isn’t going to taste as good. Next month, the raspberries and the first of the English strawberries come in, and they’re just a better product.”

Lillie O'Brien from London Borough of Jam

Other vendors expressed a similar desire to use more local food, but were finding it hard to find suppliers that would wholesale at their desired quantities.

“We’ve been trying to find a dairy farm that’s local and we can buy a massive amount of wholesale milk, cream and eggs from,” said Tim Bamber from Bamber Brothers Baking & Brewing Co. “As a small business, it’s just trying to find a space where you can buy a medium amount from — small wholesale as opposed to massive, big bulk wholesale. It’s a lot about having the confidence to approach the suppliers and see what you can get.”

Mark Temple from Ash Green Organics had some of English-grown produce — including some unique English foods like stinging nettle tips — but noted he’d get even more as the growing season starts again in full.

“The lettuces are English, the leeks are English, a lot of the onions are normally English but aren’t this time of year,” he said.

Temple noted that his farm produces mainly plums and apples, which won’t be in season until August.

“I’m picking apples between August and the end of October, then I sell them from cold storage until about now,” he said. “The first of my apples will be early August; most of the August and September ones are quite sweet and juicy. The ones with the bigger flavours — the Russet — I generally pick in October.”

Downham Pigs and Produce from Lacock in Wiltshire was doing a brisk business selling all manners of sausages, bacons, other meats and eggs.

“We’re about a hundred miles from the outskirts of London on the M4,” said proprietor David Wilkinson. “It’s all grown on our farm. I’m the pig farm, the beef is from the same farm, the eggs are free-range eggs from a farm within Lacock village. The ham, the black pudding, the pates — that’s all produced by ourselves on-site.”

According to Wilkinson — who estimates over half his business is repeat customers — his success is due to locality and quality.

“I think we do well for two reasons,” he said. “Firstly because we produce it and then come and sell it, and the customer likes to know how it’s reared, how its produced, what we do and the fact we’ve made the black pudding and the ham — they like that and are quite keen on that. The second reason is because the product is good — they wouldn’t come back again and buy it if it wasn’t. I can give them as much bull as they like the first time ‘round, but they won’t come back again if the product’s rubbish.”