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

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Badgering the bodgers

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Cards on the table: I am a badger loving softy. My single best wildlife moment was seeing four badgers in a dusky Norfolk wood. They froze and stared at me; I held my breath and marvelled at them. 

However, I am also a farmer’s daughter. I am passionate about supporting British farming and believe it is the backbone of our society and countryside. I know how difficult farming can be, particularly for small family farms, coping with the challenges of price-cutting supermarkets, international competition and tough economic times.

As a result, the call to cull badgers to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis leaves me in a confused spin. Do I stand up for our natural wildlife or do I support people’s livelihoods?

It’s all pretty emotive, so let’s look at the facts. Bovine TB is a devastating disease that can cause crippling financial losses to farmers and lots of suffering to cattle. It is carried by badgers, although originated in cattle.

So, is culling badgers any different to killing other wildlife? We must not forget that, like it or not, it is a commonplace activity in the countryside. Rabbits, foxes and deer, all beautiful animals, are routinely controlled across farms, estates and nature reserves nationwide. It is done to protect game, crops or even to help rare species survive. This doesn’t make the headlines, so what is different here?

The major factor is that where badgers are concerned, culling has not proved to be effective. It is clear that with rabbits, fewer bunnies mean fewer nibbling mouths to eat your young wheat crop – this is simple and guaranteed. However, with badgers it is more complex. There are many views, but it seems a strong possibility that their slaughter may not actually lead to reduced levels of tuberculosis in cattle.

Firstly, you do not know if the badger you are aiming your rifle at is actually carrying TB. Consequently, any given death will not automatically remove a degree of risk. Secondly, studies on the effects of culling show that it can make the problem worse, not better. Animals will move; some leaving sites to seek safety elsewhere and others moving into vacant territories. The effect of increased roaming from infected badgers will inevitably lead to more exposure for cattle.

A pilot cull is happening now in two areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire. Those hoping for it to shed some light on whether this cull could help are likely to be disappointed. It has been criticised because the ‘success’ of the pilot isn’t actually based on whether or not TB is reduced in local cattle, but instead on how many badgers, infected or not, are killed.

Every penny that is invested in expensive cull attempts, which are only a short term measure unless you eradicate the whole population, is a penny less to invest in finding a permanent solution. Vaccination options are currently imperfect, but are surely the way forward, alongside ever more stringent cattle testing and livestock movement controls.

Bodged badger bashing is not the answer because it isn’t going to help farmers or tax payers. All this sorry situation highlights is how few cards wildlife holds in the sad game of policy poker.

First published in the EDP and EADT on 27th September 2013