It is 18 years since a very small village scale Farmers’ Market took place in the old Llanishen village hall. It was the brain child of Stephen Shearman who was inspired after visiting the USA and who is still running the market. The initiative was an early example, the first UK Farmers’ Market took place in Bath a year earlier, and quickly became established, outgrowing the village Halls in Llanishen, Devauden and Mitchel Troy before settling in Usk at it’s current regular venue, the Usk Memorial Hall.
The original concept was to establish a structure which offered the opportunity for local producers to sell directly to the final customer. Not such a revolutionary concept, the idea is an old one reaching back to the beginning of time, but unusual in the current era of modern retailing.
This type of market provides a unique choice for customers to meet the people who actually produce their food and drink, whether it is grown, reared baked or brewed and who gain a much more direct connection with the source and nature of their food.
Looking back over the years, and digging out some old photos, it is amazing that one or two of the stallholders that came to the very first market are still with us as well as many others that joined in the early years. The same goes for the customers who have loyally used the market and developed very real and ongoing relationships with stallholders.
There are now many more of this type of market operating and they have been considered important in supporting local economies. The Usk market alone has contributed many thousands in rent and has played a part in farm diversification with direct sales becoming an important element in overall farm incomes.
While the market at Usk does not have a precise definition of “local” i.e. all from the County of Monmouthshire or within a 30 mile radius, as is the norm, but publishes the road miles each stallholder has travelled to the market. The current average is around 16 miles with, as example, organic free range poultry reared and processed ready for sale on two farms that are both less than 5 miles from Usk.
There are many implications for traceability, animal welfare, food miles, minimal environmental impact, health and long term sustainability in this local food chain as well as providing food of unequal freshness and of artisan rather than industrial production.
This is not the cheapest food available, no economies of scale or subsidies are involved so the price represents the real costs of production. Producers operating at this level are not motivated entirely by profit. Celia Thomas, of Penrhiw Farm, says “it is much more rewarding to sell to customers directly than seeing the animals leaving the farm in trailers”.
The market is made up of producers who are committed to maintain extraordinarily high standards on a regular basis. This can mean a “young” Paul Cooper harvesting his lettuce on the morning of market days and Paul Wisniewsky picking wild garlic on his way.
The original plan was for the market to be sustainable in the long term and it is amazing that the smallest town in Monmouthshire should have sustained a market of this size for so many years.
There will be a special Celebration Market on 5th November Usk Memorial Hall 10.00 -13.00