NICOLA MILLER: Put our producers in the spotlight

Nicola Miller
Nicola Miller

As Autumn in Bury arrives, our skies are imbued with a familiar vegetal and burned toffee aroma which emanates from the sugar beet factory as their yearly campaign gets underway. It is a timely and important reminder that despite the growing urban amenties we all benefit from, our town’s engine has a rural heart and none of us could live as we do without the efforts of our rural food producers.

We have a world famous market which sells the fruits (and vegetables) of their labours and we quite rightly must do what we can to nurture it, however it is an unending mystery to me as to why Bury does not have its own dedicated farmers’ market, celebrating local produce grown or created within a thirty mile radius. I’m not the only one either: whenever I speak to people involved in the British food scene, many express surprise that we lack one.

The recent Vision Document was emphatic in its conclusion that that our lack of a high quality and regular farmers’ market is detrimental and the establishing of such an event would be of huge benefit to the town, increasing footfall, bringing all the fiscal and cultural benefits associated with this; Lavenham farmers’ market figures show that 68% of its visitors remain in the village, spending their money in other businesses and growth steadily bucked the trend at a time of national economic decline. A farmers’ market would also attract influential people to the town, people who seek to promote British foods and their producers as some of the best in the world, providing essential counter balance to the East Suffolk domination of the county food scene. And why do local farmers deserve a market in Bury? Because they understand terroir and in particular, that Suffolk’s is enviable; far more than the sum of its parts, steeped in centuries of tradition and culture.

Our local foods have romance in the grand sense and this is what attracts customers: high quality things to buy and eat in the loveliest of settings with bonus points for being environmentally conscious; farmers’ markets reduce food miles, strengthen local economic networks, involve less waste and encourage us to think seasonally. As a shopper, I want to know the people who produce my food.

So location, location, location...

The problem of Cornhill Walk has raised its head again recently; it used to be filled with shops but is now nearly empty, like a greenhouse in winter and it is becoming a civic embarrassment. Cornhill Walk supports events during Festival weeks so why not a monthly farmers’ market? There’s power sources on tap, it is warm and weather proof, easy to clear up afterwards (something farmers’ markets do for themselves) and self contained.

Soon the restoration of Cupola House will be complete and the scaffolding that blights this pretty part of Bury will come down. A dedicated farmers’ market here would help compensate for the terrible effects the fire has wreaked upon it. There’s enough room for stalls and seating areas for customers to sit and relax and the farmers’ market could be held on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Another option closer to the medieval grid is Hatter Street with pavements wide enough to cope with stalls running alongside and nearby parking for visitors on Angel Hill. The pavements of St John’s Street widen towards its eponymous hall which could provide indoor space for stalls and I know that some of its businesses would welcome a farmers’ market. The street could cope with stalls running alongside the pavements and a once a month traffic ban for four hours on a Sunday in exchange for the benefits a refocus upon this part of the town would no doubt bring.

Nothing is impossible with a will and we certainly need to ask the council, ‘what are the economic benefits of NOT having a monthly dedicated farmers’ market?’

The example of Sudbury’s own farmers’ market, run as it is by a committed and award winning organisation, shows that towns and their ancient existing markets benefit from innovation as opposed to diluting the customer base and I know of no statistics that show Bury market footfall is reduced because of the special Bank Holiday and French markets held on an occasional basis. Our farmers’ market deserves to be run by a competent person with a proven track record in suppporting and showcasing producers; someone who is respected and passionate. And our local West Suffolk producers deserve a regular place in the spotlight.