A glimmer of hope for Marlborough’s farmers’ market as it sadly closes down

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

The handwritten poster announced it was the end of the line and offered thanks to all the supporters of Marlborough’s own Farmers’ Market, which has filled the town hall once a month for almost 12 years.

And, inevitably, there was an air of gloom  about the place.  “I’m sad its ending because of what the decision reflects,” said Jo Ripley (pictured), the Friends of the Earth and Climate Change activist, who originally launched it while combating GM food production.

“Yes, we have scored a point as part of a bigger movement itself.  May be there was not enough local support.  There are always people who say they support farmers’ markets yet don’t necessarily get themselves here to shop.” 

But there was too a possibility of a revival of the market, thanks to the enthusiasm of Andrew Card, from Bourne Farm, Ramsbury, who believes that Saturday is the wrong day to stage the event.

“We’ve been one of the lucky ones,” he revealed as the number of stalls displaying fresh organic produce has dropped from 10 to seven and most have reported declining sales.

“Our sales have been increasing every time we have come here in the past two years.  And since we’ve diversified too.  There’s an awful lot of competition in Marlborough on a Saturday from the butchers and the market stalls out there in the High Street.”

“If you look at Hungerford, they do their farmers’ market on a Sunday.  And they are very busy indeed because there isn’t the same competition and same traffic problems either.”

“We have been thinking of the possibility of resurrecting the market on a Sunday and we would like to explore that.”

The idea was welcomed by Marlborough town councillor Richard Pitts, who helps out at the market selling bread from the Bedwyn Bakery, the only independent baker in the area, and an array of organic apple juice from local orchards.

“That’s something the council would support,” he said. “If there was enough public interest, then we would certainly want to keep the Farmers’ Market going.”

Bourne Farm’s success is put down to the fact that it has introduced new lines.  Apart from products from its traditional breeds of pigs and its own farm eggs, it has introduced organic vegetables grown in Devizes and an array of baked cakes and tarts.

However, stallholder Nick Venters, from Cherry Orchard Meats, Burbage, who has been selling his pork sausages, gammon and bacon at the market for a decade, believes there has been a turn in the tide.

“The novelty of farmers’ markets has worn off,” he explained. “The market here is not the only one affected. Business has declined for them all, and some of them in the Wiltshire federation have closed down.

“It’s sad – outrageous is a bit too strong a word -- that fewer and fewer local people bother to come. Most of those here this morning are tourists.”

Jo Ripley agrees that there has been a general decline, one reason being that the markets have influenced mainstream shops, especially supermarkets, to provide food, particularly meat, whose origin is now disclosed. They have improved too their relationships with farmers.

“We’re not exactly a food desert here in Marlborough,” she added. “We’ve got two good butchers, though unfortunately we don’t have a greengrocer any more.  And we’ve only ever sold organic veg so that we didn’t compete with them or the market stalls.”

Loyal customers at the Marlborough market are being given the contact details of the stallholders and there are plans to stage events in the town hall to give residents information of the organic farm producers in the area.

“People who don’t know necessarily that these producers exist locally can come and learn about them,” she said.