In a recent Cornish Mutual survey, more than a third of Dorset consumers said they are buying more locally-produced food and drink than they did 12 months ago. Dorset Farmers’ Markets is helping to meet the county’s growing demand for local produce, by running a series of regular markets in towns, from Wimborne in the east to Bridport in the west.
Dorset Farmers’ Markets has grown since it was established in 2004, and now has ambitions to expand further by attracting new stallholders, to offer an even more diverse range of local produce. Customers are guaranteed that whatever they buy will have been produced within 30 miles of the market.
Dorset Farmers’ Markets committee member and stall holder Karen Welford originally launched her vegetarian food business, Meat Free Martha, through the markets. She says: “At each market you get a different range of stalls. We have the traditional farmers, cheese makers, fish stalls, vegetarian food producers, bakers, fruit and veg, and, on top of that, we have a number of artisan craft producers. You can guarantee the person behind the stall will be the person who has farmed, made or created the product.
“The range of what we sell has expanded and the attitude of customers has also changed over the years. People are more interested in the provenance of their food and knowing what they’re putting on their plates, so it’s definitely of interest to our customers to meet the producers. ”
Karen explains that an important function of the markets is to help new businesses get off the ground. She says: “The markets are a real starting point for new traders and for fledgling businesses. We have a lot of people who use us as a stepping stone to other things. Many of our traders are still regulars at the markets, even though they are well established and, in some cases, selling through wholesalers and supermarkets.”
The multi-award-winning Dorset Shellfish began selling its crab, lobster and shellfish products at the markets around eight years ago. Stef Drever, who runs the business with her parents and brother, explains: “We have our own boat in Weymouth so when someone asks me where the crab is from, it’s really nice to be able to say ‘Well actually my dad and brother caught it this morning’. I think our customers care about where their food has come from and about what they’re putting into their body. They also know they’re supporting the local economy.
“I’d recommend Dorset Farmers’ Markets to any new businesses. Instead of buying a shop and having all your overheads, it’s a cheaper and easier way of getting your products out there. Without Dorset Farmers’ Market we wouldn’t be established. We owe everything to them really.”
Based just over the Devon border in the Blackdown Hills, Donna Lucking of Ellises Farm has been selling free range Gloucester Old Spot pork at markets on the west side of the county for around 10 years. She says: “The markets are a really important outlet for us. Dorset’s a great place for local food and the people here really embrace it.”
Zoe Kay and Lewis Matthews, Boer goat breeders and meat producers from New Barn Farm, near Wimborne, are among Dorset Farmers’ Markets newest stallholders. Zoe says: “The farmers’ markets are a great way of introducing people to goat meat, which is growing in popularity but is still new to many. It gives us an opportunity to inform people that goat meat is better for you - it’s leaner than almost any other meat. We’re offering tasters, so people can try the meat and we can also advise them on the ways to cook the different cuts.”
Karen says that each one of the markets has a different range of stallholders from the local area, with the aim that each market will include a diverse mix of different locally-made products. Each stallholder must also meet Dorset Farmers’ Markets strict criteria. “Everyone has to have their environmental health checks, the correct insurance and risk assessments,” she explains. “You don’t necessarily get that at other markets, but we want to give our customers the reassurance that the people they are buying from have these policies in place.”
As a long-term insurer of Dorset Farmers’ Markets, Cornish Mutual has now committed to a three-year sponsorship package with the organisation. The support will include marketing and brand development advice as well as helping Dorset Farmers’ Markets move towards sustainable packaging, which organisers hope will be another selling point, setting them apart from supermarkets.
Cornish Mutual Business Development Leader Philip Wilson explains: “Dorset is very diverse, but the beauty of Dorset Farmers’ Markets is that they cover the whole county. We have growing numbers of Members in Dorset and this sponsorship is another way for us to support rural communities.
“The markets are also a great way of shortening the chain between food producer and purchaser and delivering excellent quality local food to communities.”
Karen adds: “Cornish Mutual’s support has already helped us immensely, not only with our branding and marketing but in bringing us closer to Dorset Young Farmers and other complementary organisations. It’s broadening the community of local producers and farmers, allowing us to be part of more things.”
As well as attracting new stallholders, the markets’ future successes will, of course, continue to depend on maintaining a loyal customer base. Karen believes this is about offering a different shopping experience and recognising that tastes are changing.
“A sign of how things are evolving is that we now have more diverse stalls at farmers markets,” she says. “At every market, we’re offering 15 to 20 ranges of totally different local products. So rather than going to a supermarket you can just come here and go from stall to stall, buying from independent local producers and knowing exactly where the food has come from.
“Our regular customers keep coming back to support the local producers and, over time, we become friends. Sometimes it feels like more of a soap opera than a market. It’s such a lovely environment to browse, shop and just have confidence in what you’re buying.”
Dorset Farmers Markets are held on the following days each month:
1st Saturday: Poundbury & Shaftesbury
2nd Saturday: Bridport
3rd Friday: Sherborne
3rd Saturday: Wimborne
4th Saturday: Dorchester
If you are interested in having a stall at one of the markets, please contact Karen Welford: email@example.com.