Farmer’s Markets: they’re treating us like bumpkins

Ha! Caught! I’ve often suspected that London’s ‘Farmers’ Markets’ aren’t quite what they seem, and the truth’s now out: it’s accepted practice for stallholders to ‘top up’ their stocks with produce bought from the same industrial producers that supply supermarkets.

I enjoy wandering around the Borough market as much as anybody – which, to be fair, seems pretty legit: you don’t see those beefsteak tomatoes or whole pigs in Tesco. But I’m aware that what you’re buying here, apart from great food, is the experience. Meeting Farmer Giles, chatting about cuts of meat or the provenance of vegetables, saying hello to the dismembered boar’s head on the way in. (The ‘Bluffer’s Guide’ at the foot of the article is brilliant.) Is that experience worth…. double or triple the prices in supermarkets? Maybe. But I’ll just stick to Farmer’s Markets for the luxury stuff, and get the basics from the supermarket.

Farm bluffer’s guide

– Roll your vegetables around in the mud to give them an authentic farmers’ market look and you mark up your prices accordingly. Islington folk also like to see a couple of bruises

– Tear off any labels saying Spanish or Grown in Argentina or ‘gassed and stored for the best part of a year by Tesco’. Replace sticker giving the name of a quaint sounding farm or Locally Grown

– Never overestimate city folk. If you say the figs, avocados and pomegranates you are selling have been grown at your farm in Aberdeen they’ll almost certainly believe you

– Learn the lingo: ‘heifers’ are female cows, not overweight people. Also give yourself and your (Polish) stallholders names like Tess and Gabriel — anything out of a Thomas Hardy novel works a treat

– Remember to arrive early at your local wholesale market to ‘top up’ your stall. As one farmer said last week: ‘You’ve watched those vegetables grow up as if they were your own kids . . . so is [adding a few extra] breaking the rules or just bending them?’

– Ditch your normal weekend clothes and get wellies, a smock and a cap or scarf on your head. If someone starts asking too many questions, chew some straw

– Don’t worry too much about getting a real farmer to work on your stalls. Polish workers will do the trick, but it’s better if they speak a bit of English and look a bit rustic

– Get a CD of farmyard noises and make sure it plays in the background for added credibility. Most city folk will find the presence of cows on an arable farm reassuring, however unlikely

– Don’t get confused with the seasons: remember, you grew the vegetables during the summer and harvested them in the early autumn. Don’t slip up in the winter months by saying you need to slip out and pick a few more spuds when supplies on the trestle tables are low

– Drink a bottle of cider before opening for business so that your breath has ‘authenticity’. Sprinkle your conversation with the word ‘scrumpy’. It doesn’t matter that you live in Hull

– Have a rant about modern pesticides. Make it clear to customers that you only use the countryside’s natural fertilisers. You will win their undying loyalty

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