An easterly wind on a Sunday has quite an effect on dogs in Brockwell Park. My human nose could detect the smell of cooking steak and burgers by the time I was level with the lido, so it’s not surprising that those with a powerful canine one were acting quite strangely.
Although some of the four-legged Brockwell regulars must be used to it now. When the Herne Hill Farmers’ Market first set up its gourds in July it became a fairly instant hit. One of ten markets run by a company called City and County Famers’ Markets, and organised in conjunction with the Herne Hill Forum, the market sets up every Sunday outside Herne Hill station at the pedestrianised end of Railton Road.
Now, a lot of people don’t like farmers markets. Perhaps they feel making food shopping into a pastime smacks of comfortable middle-class smuggery, and fetishising expensively produced food is a bit weird when many don’t have any at all. Or they are confused by the olive stall (there is always an olive stall), and wonder who is growing olives in the home counties. All fair points, but the solution is probably ‘Yes, so don’t go’.
The naysayers won’t be missed. Sunday lunchtimes are invariably buzzing. Sure, many people are just browsing, but popular items regularly sell out and, despite the increasingly cold weather, stallholders I spoke to a couple of weeks ago were looking forward to a busy and profitable run up to Christmas.
From apples to veal, chocolates to vintage plates, liqueurs to cake, the range of goods might play a bit free and easy with the term ‘farmers’ market’, but look past the handmade scarves and indefatigable cupcakes and there’s a pretty good selection of foodstuffs that you’d usually have to take a trip to Waitrose to find.
You’d expect meat to be expensive at Farmers’ markets, and mostly it is here. However, this Couldsdon- based butcher had plenty of game on offer, including rabbit, pheasant and partridge, at very reasonable prices. I love eating game. So much better than idiotic farm animals, drugged up and dependant. I like food that has lived on its wits and until one day losing the battle between gun and running away.
Running one of two wine stalls, Simon Fisher sells wine made from grapes grown around the south (yes, of England) and his Croydon-based West Fisher winery is one of three inside the M25. He’s also restoring a small vineyard in Kent. I bought a bottle of his wine, but sadly it doesn’t say ‘Wine of Croydon’ on the label. Possibly a good marketing decision on reflection.
Handmade Dandelion chocolates were pricy, but beautiful. Especially the metallic blue ones. I was too scared to try the naughtily tempting free samples – I could see exactly what would happen…
You can’t eat or farm vintage, but that doesn’t deter the four-or-so stallholders selling retro clothes and homeware. Here’s some Christmas things at the Society for Unwanted Objects. As well as his market stall James Castle’s Objects have been on sale at pop-up shops in Herne Hill, and he’s hoping to open a permanent shop next year.
The main reason for going to a Farmers’ market is to buy good quality food straight from the producer, who should be as locally based as possible. On their website, CCFM who run the market explain their aim that most of the food sold at their markets should come from within a 100 mile radius. And I’m sure this is mostly the case in Herne Hill. Although the cheese stalls seem to be mostly run by businesses based in Wales, Glasonbury and Bath (which seems a long way to drive a cheese to me), Kent, Sussex and Hampshire were all fairly well represented. Actual farmers may be somewhat outnumbered by vintage teacups, but there’s still enough interesting food on offer to make it well worth taking a stroll past the dribbling dogs in the park to Herne Hill on a Sunday.