16 April 2007, 13:15 PM
  • Ed Haigh at BigBarn reports on how unscrupulous traders are ruining the reputation of local food

A recent report in the Sunday Times highlighted how the growing popularity for farmers’ markets is being exploited by unscrupulous traders selling ‘supermarket’ food, masquerading as fresh food from small, local farms. How sad, and yet how utterly predictable.

Unfortunately, the single biggest motivator we have in society these days is money. Where the money goes, people follow, and where getting hold of that money by fair means starts to look a bit tricky, getting hold of it by foul means is never far away. Don’t worry when you sell out of decent, organic local produce on your stall, the thinking goes, just top it up with mass-produced wholesale produce ‘with a bit of dirt on’ to make it look authentic. When money is the primary motivation, it’s a thin line easily crossed.

Totally predictable then, that as more and more money flows into the speciality food market, there will be more people waiting to get their hands on it whichever way they can. The Sunday Times investigation uncovered plenty of people doing just that. It made for depressing reading.

But, just because it’s inevitable, doesn’t mean we should accept it. The local and speciality food market has enough hurdles to overcome, it doesn’t need any more. Reputation and quality, allied to provenance and sustainability are the corner stones of our industry. When unscrupulous traders move in for a piece of the action and compromise the integrity and reputation of the market, everyone suffers. And remember, there are big shiny supermarkets round every corner waiting to gather up disaffected customers in their arms and rock them back to sleep with kind offers and caring messages. Our market must be better.

From our experience at BigBarn, there’s a far greater degree of self-regulation going on outside of the supermarket doors. When customers see something they don’t like, they’re much more likely to make a fuss about it. We can’t rely on that though. A savvy shopper may be able to spot something funny in finding asparagus for sale in March, but for those who have just broken free from the supermarkets - and the growth of farmers markets suggest they’re doing so all the time - anomalies like that are easily missed.

We have occasionally had to remove people from the BigBarn map when we find they’ve been misrepresenting themselves, or their products. It’s not a hassle doing so; we’re committed to offering the best service for the best producers and small retailers to promote their businesses, so we consider it our duty. But, this kind of misrepresentation needs to stop. For our market, the moment that quality is eschewed in favour of short term pocket-filling is the moment the death knell sounds for everything we believe in and earn an honest living from.

Ed Haigh runs BigBarn, the UK’s no.1 virtual farmer’s market. It has a database of more than 6,500 local producers. To find out about becoming a member, visit BigBarn at www.bigbarn.co.uk, call 01234 8761005 or email info@bigbarn.co.uk.

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