Monday, 26 October 2009

Death of a Farmers Market; or do some research first

Sad news, Palace residents. Penge Farmers Market is no more. After a 6 month trial the organisers have discovered that Penge - try as it might - is not actually home to 'AB1' residents (what - just what - is that supposed to mean? Does anyone apart from weird marketeers use this term to describe human beings?), unlike Dulwich where they also have a market going, and so the good honest hard-working people of Penge will not - and cannot - support a farmers market. To be honest, Penge isn't that short of reasonable shops - they have a great butchers and there's a very large Sainsburys at the end of the high street, so realistically speaking, they're not going to want to pay upwards of £7 for 2 loaves of fancy-schmancy bread and £4 for a bottle of apple juice. Frankly, not many people would.
So what does it take for a farmers market to work? According to the market organiser when I spoke to him earlier in the year, Penge was a plum spot for a market, lacking as it does independent grocers, a fishmongers, bakery etc and being (apparently although not in actuality) the habitat of relatively high earners. According to Murray Bros, the butchers, a market was never going to work for the reasons mentioned above - people in the locality simply don't have that money to throw around. They don't necessarily seek out higher-welfare meat and organic veg - it's not their priority; cost, on the other hand, is. That's why the supermarket and its BOGOF deals thrives.
So surely the demographic research was at fault. Or maybe people get too stuck in their ways. Yes, I could go and buy some gorgeous chicken liver pate and some nice heritage potatoes, but if you can't pick up everything for your weekly shop, and have to go elsewhere, it starts to make little sense.
I maintain Crystal Palace, which is marginally better-off as an area, and which really doesn't have a single independent food retailer to its name 9and a bloody Sainsburys to boot) really could sustain a farmers market. If it can sustain the French market that trundles along once every 3 weeks, the least it could do is host a market twice a month. But I could be being hopelessly romantic and idealistic and living-in-the-clouds. Maybe the reason there are no food shops in Palace is because we're all lazy shoppers who prefer to just trudge around the supermarket of a weekend, rather than care about where our food comes from; maybe Palace isn't as rich as I think it is. But then, the restaurant scene in Palace not only survives but positively thrives, so clearly there's interest in good food...
Meanwhile, while I live in unquenchable hope, I visited Brixton Farmers Market, newly opened in September. And there's another apparent contradiction: Brixton sure as hell ain't rich and it has an enormous Saturday market. Yet, Sunday morning the market - a large one by LFM standards - was buzzing and people were clearly buying, a fact backed up by the fact that when I went back just before closing, I was struggling to get the produce I'd eyed up on the way in. So how does that work? While I struggle to fathom this mystery, I shall now be visiting Brixton every Sunday - never say I'm not dedicated.


Anonymous said...

Bonjour bonjour.I think you have hit some good points. One piece of feedback is perhaps there is an over focus on perceived local demographics and the people of penge! Objectively put the market consisted of 7 or 8 stalls and as you say allot of them were over priced olives and bread. You couldn't even buy a cut of beef there. Hence the market itself was unlikely to survive on merit due to lack of selection no matter that it had a huge radius of croydoners/palacers/norwooders/pengers to call upon. I think perhaps not marketed effectively, perhaps shouldn't have gone live until there were at least 20 stalls and perhaps launching a sparse selection of over priced food in the middle of a recession really made the demise inevitable. As you say people in the above area do like to eat and drink in nice places...The Bridge is a stones throw from the market and probably fulfils the demographics that the market manager may have been trying to draw in -but was flawed due to the above reasons- and slightly further afield the exhibition rooms and Joanna's do a roaring trade.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in Anerley many years ago and the Maple Road market was always busy. It had fruit/veg, flower, egg stalls but none of the more expensive organic produce that it sounds like the new 'farmers' market had. It's a shame that this initiate has ended. Perhaps if it had egg/flower/fruit&veg then it might have been more popular with the people of penge.

Anonymous said...

I didn't visit the farmer's market because I'm in CP, but price matters to me. I'm just about prepared to pay 2.50 for a loaf in Blackbird every now and then because I know it's nicer, but no way would I pay more than that anywhere. The one time I remember buying bread at the farmer's market in CP long ago in the past, it was overly salty and a little stale, unfortunately.

I can see your point that people in Penge are spoilt for choice for food shops and if I was buying bread anywhere around there, I'd rather go for the pide in the Turkish shop.

Jo said...

Anonymous x 3: All good points. I was talking to a friend of mine who has worked with LFM to start the Brixton market - she reckons the difference is that Brixton is a massively community-focused area, with lots of projects and - crucialyl - despite the welath of abundance at the Saturday markets, they were really keen on the sunday market, as could be seen when I went.

And price is always going to be an issue. I shall mourn the loss of Tortano rolls from Flour Station, but really £7 for 4 rolls and a foccaccia is taking the piss in these times a little.