Country Markets in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire
PUBLISHED: 11:52 08 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:24 20 February 2013
The region's Country Markets, held in community centres and halls throughout Herefordshire and Monmouthshire are part of a nationwide organisation founded in 1919 to increase the supply of food to a war-ravaged nation.
The regions Country Markets, held in community centres and halls throughout Herefordshire and Monmouthshire are part of a nationwide organisation founded in 1919 to increase the supply of food to a war-ravaged nation. Cathy Every looks at the local and national history of the organisation and how it is serving a new generation of shoppers concerned about where their food comes from.
There are eight Country Markets in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. Held in Bromyard, Chepstow, Hay-on-Wye, Kington, Ledbury, Leominster, Ross-on-Wye and Usk they are part of a national network of around 400 markets and 12,000 producers selling items locally, co-operatively and directly to the public. If the term Country Market is unfamiliar to you, perhaps WI Market is less so. The roots of Country Markets are inextricably linked with the Womens Institute.
In 1919, the Agricultural Organisation Society (now DEFRA) gave a grant to the National Federation of Womens Institutes to set up co-operative markets to sell surplus produce to help feed the population in the aftermath of World War One and the first WI market opened, in Lewes in Sussex. Country Markets Ltd came into existence in 1995 when it became clear that a not-for-profit charitable organisation such as the WI could not also operate for profit as their markets did.
The Country Market in Ledbury is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. Its foundation in 1944 echoes that of the foundation of the network itself for a town in the grip of rationing, the market must have been a vital food source for many. Of course, those first markets were a far cry from the rosy image of a typical Country Market today. Strict rationing on ingredients such as butter, sugar and eggs meant that there were no cakes, biscuits or jams on sale. However, home-grown fruit and vegetables and freshly caught rabbits supplemented the meagre wartime diets of the townsfolk.
Home-grown fruit and vegetables are still very much in evidence at Ledburys market today (although the rabbits sadly arent!). They are joined by a wealth of other local produce, especially as we approach the festive season. Country Markets across the region will be providing a multitude of items for a truly local celebration. Ledburys market will be selling everything from homegrown sprouts to homemade brandy butter, Christmas puddings and cakes, while items such as sausage rolls and flans will make life easier for all the other meals around the main event. Not only that, plants and beautiful handcrafted jewellery will make great gifts, and holly, mistletoe and door wreaths will provide seasonal and ecofriendly decorations.
Of course, the usual array of goodswill also be on sale alongside the seasonal items. Visitors to the market will find freshly baked bread, cakes and biscuits, as well as jams, chutneys and eggs. As Lizzie McAteer, a shopper at the market for the past eight years, says: Its an amazing selection of produce. All the producers live within 15 miles of the town, so shoppers can be certain that they are supporting the local community and buying the freshest of produce all baked goods are freshly made, while fruit and vegetables will have been picked the day before and the eggs are often still warm. Mary Every, one of the markets producers says: The supermarkets cant match the freshness of our goods. Everything is at the peak of perfection and tastes like it too. Pam Elvin, a regular shopper at the market with her husband George, agrees: Everything is wholesome, tasty and just yummy.
A visit to Ledburys market at any time of year is a reminder of the riches our region has to offer. Alan Mason, another regular shopper says: Ledburys Country Market is one of the regular events which help to make Ledbury such a delightful place to live. The market is a link with the past but its still very much part of a modern market town. Alans thoughts reflect the growing interest in shopping locally. As we all seek to reduce our impact on the environment and continue to question where our food comes from and the ethics of its production, using local shops and local markets offers at least a partial solution. But, as the lengthy histories of our country markets show, shopping locally has never gone out of fashion among discerning shoppers. And as more and more people rediscover its benefits, there seems little doubt that Ledbury Country Market, and our regions other markets, will be celebrating many more milestone birthdays.
Ledbury Country Market is held every Friday from 8.30am to 12pm at St Katherine Hall, Ledbury (except on Good Friday and the two Fridays following Christmas Day). For details of the regions other markets, contact Country Markets head office on 01246 261508 or visit www.country-markets.co.uk