Guest Post by Sandra Woodfall
My Farmers Market is a small business run by Sandra and Brian Woodfall, a wife and husband team, who have been involved in farmers markets since 2000. They decided to open their first farmers market during the launch of the Medway Local Agenda 21 Plan, which was in perfect alignment with their goals of creating a more sustainable food system. They established their own set of rules for attending producers, but it was completely new territory for them, as this was their first experience establishing a market (and they didn’t have any examples of other farmers markets from which to base their model)! From the very beginning, there was great support from the community. This helped them take their six-month trial market to a regularly scheduled monthly market. Soon enough, they found themselves approached by other producers who wanted to build more farmers markets in the area. By 2004, My Farmers Market was officially established as a small business, and they began to exist as a more consistent part of the community.
Since July 2004, they have been approached many times by town centers, garden centers, shopping centers, pubs, schools, local visitor attractions about running farmers markets at their respective venues. When they visit each of the potential venues, they first look for its suitability based on producer and customer access. They also consider the impact that a farmers market may have on the local economy and evaluate if there are already other markets nearby.
Their aim is to make the farmers markets as sustainable as possible, while keeping the costs for producers at a reasonably affordable level. Using the vendor fees, they pay for venue hire, licenses, generators, banners, road closures, and publicity. Producers are required to bring their own market setup, including the stand, gazebo, table, and weights.
They are now in their 23rd year of supporting farmers markets in Kent! Their reasons for managing markets have remained the same since they began in 2000. They recognize the value of markets such as reducing environmental impact, increasing access to and awareness of fresh, local seasonal food, and helping small producers build sustainable businesses. All of their farmers markets are run outdoors and are primarily held monthly with some exceptions. A detailed list of their currently open markets is below:
- Hall Place Bexley Farmers Market: In 2011, the My Farmers Market team met with Bexley Heritage Trust, who invited them to run a farmers market at Hall Place Bexley. Beginning as a trial in November 2011 alongside an annual Christmas crafts event, they saw great success and support from the community and by April 2012, the market was opened on a monthly basis. Now there are about 23 vendors at each market occurrence.
- Lenham Country Market: This market opened in 2000, but became part of the My Farmers Market network in 2017 when the previous management hoped to retire. While this market previously had more local crafts and some food and drink stalls, the name does not include “farmers”. However, the market now has a greater focus on locally produced food and drink products and it is accredited as a real farmers market! In June 2023, this market won the Gold in the Food and Drink Market Category of The Taste of Kent Awards 2023. A very proud moment for both producers and consumers. Because of venue’s car park limitations, between 25 – 28 producers fit in this market. The My Farmers Market team carefully selects the producers (there is also a waiting list of interested producers!) and arranges the market set up giving some thought to the surrounding cafes and shops near to the market, so that it enables customers to watch the ongoing market while enjoying their coffee or meal. This market was also featured on the BBC TV program, “The Farmers Country Showdown” in January 2023 (filmed in the Summer 2022). This program has raised the profile of Lenham Market and its producers and had a really positive impact on everyone.
- Chislehurst Farmers Markets: In early 2011, Chislehurst Town Team contacted My Farmers Market about organizing a market in their area. They met with the local authorities, first the Town Centre Officer and then the Town Team Chairperson. Originally, they suggested a location for the market based in a very small alleyway, but they soon realized that it was not a suitable location for a successful market. Soon enough, the Chairperson found another location that had slightly easier access and could be seen from the main street. They held the first pilot market on the same day at the Chislehurst Summer Fair, which allowed them to cross promote. Overall, it was a great success that allowed them to continue to run the market on a monthly basis. Local residents loved this market – however, from the perspective of the producers, it wasn’t an ideal location – both in terms of the limited space and the occasional flooding with bad weather. Soon enough, local leadership in Chislehurst helped find an alternate location for the market. My Farmers Market also managed to negotiate for electric connection as well. For several months after moving to the new location, one of their market managers would stand at the entrance to the old location directing customers to the new location. The relationship with the town has proved to be very valuable! With this partnership, they have also managed to host some great events, such as the British Food Fortnight and a local harvest festival that brought together local churches.
- West Malling Farmers Market: Started in 2000 by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, this market was originally managed by a staff member. In March 2009, issues with logistics and funding for a significant road closure in the town threatened a closure of this market. However, the community did not want the market to close, so the Parish Council worked with My Farmers Market to keep it open – and by April, My Farmers Market was managing the market. Gradually this market has increased in size and number of vendors. By 2017, the market regularly hosted over 35 different producers attending. This past October, they hosted over 40 producers. This is their largest farmers market. The Parish Council is still very supportive of the farmers market and the market organizers regularly liaise with the Councilors around issues that happen in the Village. This market also supports several local events, such as the Christmas Light Switch On Events, Community Group Event Day, and St. George’s Day Parades. It’s well supported by the community. In October 2016, the market was thrilled to be nominated by community members and to win the award for Best Farmers Market in Kent. West Malling Farmers Market continues to thrive with very loyal support from its customers.
Overall, here is a list of the advantages and disadvantages at the markets, synthesizing all of My Farmers Markets’ locations. Some benefits for one market were drawbacks for another.
- Beautiful and/or ideal setting (ex: surrounded by gardens and/or other attractions, in a village square setting with nearby cafes, good public transport access, expansive space that encourages market growth and vendor capacity, high visibility from the main road)
- Ideal Logistics (ex: setup and takedown for stallholders, electricity availability, ample parking)
- Good Community support: (ex: strong local resident support, longstanding market with loyal customers, local government support, strategic banner placement and online promotion from local businesses/community)
- Limited / Suboptimal Setting (ex: overall constraints on space impacting market growth and vendor capacity, limited accessibility by public transport)
- Complex/Restrictive logistics (ex: parking availability issues, Limitations on selling hot food/drinks due to on-site café, lack of on-site electricity (requiring generator rentals), difficulties arising from non-market-related parked cars occupying available market space
- Complicated Bureaucracy (ex: impacts from Ultra Low Emission Zone, administrative burdens that are time-consuming and costly)
Each of their farmers markets follows the criteria of the Farm Retail Association “Real Farmers Market standard.” My Farmers Market believes it is crucial to show this commitment to customers. In the UK, support for farmers markets currently lies with the Farm Retail Association (FRA), and Sandra is a farmers market representative on the national committee for the Farm Retail Association.
The Farm Retail Association (FRA) began as the Farm Shop and Pick Your Own (PYO) Association (FSPA) on October 11, 1979 at the Farmpick Conference in Birmingham. They independently inspect farmers markets to make sure they fulfill specific criteria to enable them to be certified farmers markets. FRA continues to adhere to the same principles, supporting, sharing and learning with one another. FRA offers the Real Farmers Market certification. The scheme was devised to give the public a clear understanding of which markets are “true” Farmers Markets according to their principles. The core principles are included below:
- Champion the Farmers
- Prioritize Local Produce
- Be proud of the provenance of your products
- Understand your products
- Be correctly insured
- Follow the correct legal standards
- Promote yourself as a Real Farmers Market
- Enforce the core principles above
In 2021, the FRA became involved with WorldFMC, as one of the early members gathering with other farmers market managers across the world. Representatives from the Farm Retail Association have attended the Annual General Meetings in Rome with UK representatives from London Farmers Markets and Abbey Leys Farmers Market attending the General Assembly Meeting in May 2023.
If you are in the United Kingdom, be sure to visit and experience all the beautiful My Farmers Markets.
To learn more about this market, be sure to follow them on their beautiful Instagram.
Photo Credit & Content: My Farmers Market