Farmers’ markets and first world problems

Feeling overwhelmed at a farmer’s market truly is a first world problem, rather like the milk frother on your coffee machine breaking, or your heated car seats giving you a sweaty bum. It’s easy to see these markets as the preserve of the wealthy; just for those who don’t have to think about whether the courgettes would have been cheaper elsewhere.

Bear with me though, because there is much more to a farmer’s market than occasionally overpriced produce. For a start, it doesn’t have to be a more expensive way of sourcing your groceries. Yes, there is often artisan sourdough bread priced at £7 a loaf, but there are also fresh fruit and veggies available for less than average prices.

Even better, whilst haggling in the supermarket would get you ushered to the door, at a farmers’ market it is permissible to ask for a better price if you buy more, or to cheekily enquire whether a lemon or bunch of herbs can be thrown in for free. Also, if you visit towards the end of the market you can get some great deals – store holders don’t want to take it all home with them. It’s a useful tip to take cash for easy transactions and to avoid spending more than you planned.

Compared to your supermarket, the farmers market is also fabulously eco-friendly. All produce should be seasonal and locally produced, so you won’t be tempted by blueberries from Chile. Buying seasonally should also help keep your grocery bills down and ensure that your food is super fresh because it won’t have travelled across the globe.

There will often be much less packaging too, and you can further increase your green credentials by taking your own bags.

Meeting the producers will also rekindle your connection to your food. Instead of shoving it in the trolley like an automaton, we are more likely to ask questions about provenance, recipe ideas or just have a good old fashioned chat. The traceable nature of most products means you are far less likely to end up with horse in your lasagne.

Farmers’ markets are both a playground and a school for children. They will love the colour, noise and array of produce (especially when tasters are offered) and will learn masses about their food too.

A few years back, chef Jamie Oliver reported that many children can’t identify even basic vegetables. Kids that visit farmers’ markets will get a head start in their food education. Not only that, but they can order and pay for you (working on their confidence, social skills and mathematics). After such an input, they are far more likely to eat the item you have bought.

Realistically, the farmers’ market is unlikely to replace the dreaded supermarket trip, but it can certainly complement your normal shop. It is an outing rather than just a chore and something the whole family can be involved in. But what to do with the artichoke you just bought? That’s definitely another first world problem.

First published in the EDP and EADT


Ditch the dictionary and get outside

I don’t blame the Oxford Junior Dictionary (OJD) for removing a host of gorgeous natural words from its pages and replacing them with ‘blog’, ‘celebrity’ and ‘committee’. A dictionary charts our changing language rather than directly altering it. The OJD is simply responding to the sad state of a world where technology and popular culture are considered to be more important than natural heritage.

You will never learn what a ‘catkin’ or ‘bluebell’ or ‘adder’ is from the pages of a dictionary. No formal, two-line explanation could do justice to the sway of catkins in the breeze, that touchable tassel of pollen. Or the scent of a carpet of bluebells, heady and rich, buzzing with bees. Or that brief, heart-stopping glimpse of an adder, slipping silently into the undergrowth.

As Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, wrote in The Sense of Wonder, “I sincerely believe that for the child… it is not half so important to know as to feel.” A dictionary won’t help you feel, smell, touch, hear, taste and ultimately enjoy nature.

However, as I write this ‘blog’ (oh brave new ugly word), I also believe in the power of words. Without them, we cannot share our experiences or truly communicate those feelings.

Now, I believe that I bring my children up to touch catkins and know they turn in to hazelnuts, but I put it to the test. To replace some of the lost definitions in the OJD, here are my six-year-old’s suggestions, unedited. I’ve scored each one out of 10 for accuracy and level of detail.

Acorn – thing that falls from an oak tree and turns into another oak tree 10/10

Adder – fish in the sea 0/10

Ash – fire burnt down and a tall tree that can get a disease 7/10

Blackberry – spikey brambley plants grow blackberries and when they are purple you can eat them 10/10

Bluebells – flower comes in spring in woods. Not really blue, is purple. 10/10

Buttercup – flower that you get in meadows and gardens, yellow, put it under your chin to see if you like butter 10/10

Catkin –  brown, like acorns but fluffier and longer 8/10

Conker – falls from a chestnut tree, nice to collect 7/10

Cygnet – a baby turtle that lives in the sea 0/10

Dandelion – starts with a yellow flower that you can eat, then the dandelion clock comes with seeds you can blow to tell the time 9/10

Kingfisher – sparkly bird that goes in the water and catches fish 9/10

Newt – a type of frog, they are green or brown 5/10

I was shocked that my son had no clue what an ‘adder’, ‘cygnet’ ‘pasture’ or ‘fern’ is, but other than that, he did pretty well. His knowledge is based on what he has seen and touched, not on a book or television programme.

Yes, I am sad that the OJD has removed such beautiful, evocative words, but we had a battle on our hands well before that. We are losing nature at a scary rate and our children do not experience wild places on a daily basis. Losing words is a tiny problem in comparison.

The solution is in all our hands – get outside with your children or grandchildren every day and support charities such as the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts who are working hard to reverse natural declines. Then talk about it and share these underused words, for voices and experiences keep them alive, not dictionaries.