Market gives lots of food for thought

ARMED with reusable shopping bags, hundreds of eager customers make their way along Castle Terrace every Saturday, peering at the mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables, locally-produced meat and mouth-watering sweet treats on sale.

Strolling along the neat rows of brightly coloured stalls, they browse the Farmers' Market, chat with sellers and producers before making informed decisions about the products to buy.

Most leave with a smile on their face, knowing they have bought fresh, local items that haven't been flown halfway across the world before making it to their kitchens.

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A decade ago, before the market arrived in the Capital, Saturday mornings were a very different story. Families would instead make the monotonous journey to impersonal supermarkets, trekking the never-ending aisles in search of mass-produced food and drink made in factories in the far-flung corners of the world.

"People are definitely more conscious about food now," explains Tony Stone, owner of the Edinburgh porridge company Stoats, "and more passionate about it as well, having a genuine interest in where it comes from."

Tony, from Slateford, has been a regular at the Castle Terrace market for six years, using it to build up his popular business which specialises in fresh porridge and snack bars.

As the tenth anniversary of the market is reached, he insists it is an asset the city should be proud of.

"We have loyal customers who return week after week," he says. "All because they can get pretty much everything they need there, as well as knowing they are giving something back to the local economy.

"They know the quality is there in the food, too - after all, this is some of the best food in Scotland."

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From organic beef to wild boar, smoked salmon to freshly picked potatoes, steaming hot porridge to gourmet crisps, the Edinburgh Farmers' Market has something to suit all tastes.

Despite this, it is far from everyone's cup of tea. Many Edinburgh shoppers continue to be put off by the very idea of a market run by "farmers", feeling isolated from what is often perceived as an outdoor supermarket for the wealthier classes.

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Couple this with the perception that the market may be more expensive than the mainstream supermarket alternative and it should come as no surprise that many people continue to head to Tesco, or some other well-known store, for their weekly shop.

"It all boils down to quality," Tony explains. "Yes, if you want cheap and cheerful, the Farmers' Market probably isn't for you. But if you want something that's quality and real value for money, then you are going to get more for your money from the market."

David Pate, director of Dunbar-based Belhaven Smokehouse, agrees. He is a regular at the Edinburgh Farmers' Market, selling his popular smoked fish, meats and cheeses.

"I believe the Farmers' Market is genuinely the cheaper alternative," he says. "In supermarkets, everything is cleverly packaged so you think you're getting more than you really are. What shoppers need to look for as a comparison is the price per kilo. In that respect, our prices are usually cheaper.

"Also, you can be assured of what you're getting at the market as you can ask questions before you buy it, while building up a relationship with the producer every week."

It is exactly this relationship with the producers that compels shoppers to return to the Farmers' Market, as well as visiting other similar ventures across the Lothians.

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Some supporters believe so strongly in the concept of such personal markets that they are even setting up a new monthly organic event in Portobello, with around 20 stalls operating in Brighton Park selling local organic food and crafts from the south-east of Scotland.

Families trying to lead greener lives are also drawn to the Farmers' Market.

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"The environmental aspect is definitely an appeal for a lot of shoppers," says Tony Stone. "The 'food miles' are low as products have not had to travel any great distance or spend weeks on end in a fridge.

"A lot of the shoppers choose to walk to the market, too, or come on their bikes."

He admits that bringing a car into the city centre is not appealing for most shoppers and for this reason the producers and sellers involved in the Farmers' Market have to work hard to promote the event to the people of Edinburgh, many of whom are yet to be convinced about its worth.

"You get expert knowledge at the market by speaking to farmers. That has to be better than a bleep and maybe a smile if you're lucky at the supermarket checkout," Tony says. "It's inevitable that most of us will go to a supermarket at some point for some things, but we have to think more about supporting the local economy."

The award-winning Edinburgh Farmers' Market is held every Saturday, all year round, on Castle Terrace from 9am to 2pm.

"Edinburgh Farmers' Market is a great way for people to reduce their food miles while at the same time supporting local producers," explains Tom Campbell, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, organisers of the event.

"There is a great range of local products every week that are seasonal and fresh, reflecting the very best in Scottish produce."

For more information, visit www.edinburghfarmers

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