brightly decorated stalls laden with fresh fruit, vegetables and meats were once the hub of any community.
Farmers’ markets operated as the best way for those who worked the land to get their produce to the people. And while the rise of the supermarket almost saw them fade away, the past decade has seen a resurgence, giving shoppers hungry for quality a direct line to suppliers.
In an age where scrutiny is placed on what we eat and where it comes from, it is hardly surprising that crowds flock to such events, but with competition expanding there is no room for complacency. Organisers are always working to make the markets as fresh as the goods on the stalls, with quirky events to pull in shoppers.
Today in Edinburgh a crash-course in cookery, courtesy of one of the city’s up-and-coming chefs, is the latest trick.
The man in the hot-seat, charged with keeping crowds entertained while whipping up a tasty treat, is Chris
Thomson, owner and chef at The Pantry in Stockbridge. Having built his restaurant into an established part of the community in the last year, Chris, pictured below, has proved he has what it takes. This afternoon, he will be tackling a different challenge however – cooking a dish with mystery ingredients chosen by others from the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, on Castle Terrace.
Chris is the latest chef to sign up for the market’s monthly cooking demonstrations arranged by Slow Food, which will see him taking the crowd through the creation of a dish made from ingredients only revealed to him on the day. Chris admits he has never done anything like it, and is feeling the nerves. “I’m fine with students, but adults, peers – that is a bit more nerve wracking,” says the former biology teacher. “I’m a huge fan of the farmers’ market. We go regularly to get food for the house and a lot of the stallholders supply the restaurant, so it’s great to be able to take part.”
As well as the demonstration, organisers will be filming for YouTube, and tweeting throughout the day – adding to the pressure on Chris, but also showcasing the market to a wider audience.
It’s not just cooking that bosses at Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market are using to boost crowds – which can be as big as 8000. Recently, the Royal Highland Society Edinburgh set up a stall with live animals, along with a fibreglass milking cow.
Brian McAteer, events co-ordinator at Essential Edinburgh, admitted it had been “unusual” but its popularity proved people were keen to get more than just their shopping at the market. “The aim of their visit was to encourage children to learn a little more about where their food comes from, and it was very popular,” he says.
Cooking goes hand-in-hand with farmers’ markets and is often the focus of special events – such as today.
“Last year the guys behind the Gardener’s Cottage, on London Road, had a pop-up restaurant for a few weeks. They would get their ingredients at the market in the morning and then set up tables and chairs,” says Brian. “It was a great success and we’re looking to hold something similar in the coming months.”
Edinburgh Farmers’ Market has gone from strength to strength since it was re-launched in 2000 and now has more than 50 stallholders. To ensure the whole family enjoys their trip, Mr McAteer stresses organisers work hard to bring a range of entertainment to the attraction.
“There are buskers who just turn up and perform, but for big events we put on performances,” he says. “At Christmas children could go around the stalls looking for Elf toys that had been hidden and that sort of thing helps make it a family affair. We’re always looking for new ways to bring people to the market and hopefully it will continue to grow in the years to come.”