Farmers Markets

| 1st June 2003
In 1996 there were no farmers’ markets anywhere in the UK. Today they outnumber Asda stores. Dan Box celebrates their comeback and why we should all be using them.

Market values

While supermarkets spend millions on advertising to entice us into their stores, farmers’ markets rely on the quality of the food they offer. They guarantee this quality by offering an alternative to the anonymity of supermarket shopping – everything on sale has been grown, reared, or produced by the stallholder – giving them a personal interest in every customer. You can touch and smell the fruit, ask how meat was reared and learn the best way to cook it. All the food at a farmers market comes from within the county boundary, or 30 miles of each market. It is not transported hundreds of miles to distant supermarket distribution centres, then shunted back in lorries to each store. As a result, it needs less processing, less packaging and less chemical preservatives to survive long journeys. By offering local varieties, farmers’ markets also provide a link to the land and to the seasons – during the winter frost, fruit will be rare; in summer the stalls will overflow and prices tumble.


0 Number of UK farmers’ markets in 1996

420 Number of UK farmers’ markets today

13 Number of farmers’ markets in London

125 Percentage increase in markets since 2000

£166m Total sales from UK farmers’ markets

15 million Number of visits to farmers’ markets each year.

80 Percentage of neighbouring businesses who have seen a boost in trade following the establishment of a local market.

22 Percentage of their crop US farmers say would be wasted if farmers’ markets were not available.

97 Percentage of US farmers who say that without farmers’ markets they could not survive.

24,000 Number of people directly involved in preparing and selling food for Ontario, Canada’s, 127 farmers’ markets.

60 Percentage of farmers’ markets which are now expanding in size

Saving you money

Prices in farmers’ markets are 10-18 per cent lower than those in supermarkets, according to two independent surveys. UK evidence shows that, for organic food, farmers’ markets are much cheaper than supermarkets. A survey by the University of West England found that organic meat and poultry were 37 per cent more expensive at supermarkets and organic vegetables cost 33 per cent more.

Go shopping

The National Association of Farmers' Markets works to promote and support farmers' markets, allowing them to expand and remain self-sustaining. The association grants accreditation only to those markets which comply to agreed criteria, guaranteeing food is locally supplied and sold by someone directly involved in its production.


To learn more, or find your nearest market, contact:

South Vaults, Green Park Station, Green Park Road, Bath, BA1 1JB

tel: 01225 787914, fax: 01225 460840




  • The first UK farmers’ market was set up in Bath in 1997.
  • 1998 saw farmers’ markets established in towns throughout the country including Bristol, Holmfirth and Lewes.
  • Twenty years ago, farmers’ markets were unknown in Britain but were already popular in the US.
  • Today there are over 3000 markets in the US, with an annual income over $1bn.
  • In the days before supermarket distribution networks, Norfolk farmers used to walk their geese and turkeys to London. The journey was so long that the birds were given shoes or had their feet tarred - you can still see a pair of little leather shoes in Norwich Museum.
  • Asda, taken over last year by US giant Wal-Mart, started out in the 20s as a co-operative of Yorkshire farmers who got together to sell their meat and milk at local markets. Asda has recently been muscling in on farmers’ markets, setting up its own in store carparks where local producers sell directly to customers, bypassing their hosts, the retailing middlemen.
  • A study in Sussex found that Lewes farmers’ market provided locally grown fresh food which was affordable for families on low incomes. Farmers’ markets in general can improve access to food for people on low incomes, the study found.
  • US farmers’ markets have been successful in poor inner-cities that have no supermarket. According to the US Department of Agriculture: ‘Direct markets provide access to fresh fruit and vegetables for consumers – especially minority consumers in the inner city – who would otherwise not be able to get fresh produce’.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist June 2003

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