Tilly Roberts is up early to meet the stallholders who make the Chichester farmers’ market such a success for the city. The farmers’ markets are held on the first and third Friday of every month on North and East Street from 09:00-14:00.
From Chichester station, I walk purposely towards the town square with a spring in my step and a lot of steamy breath rising to fog my glasses. It’s Friday morning, 8:30am, and the town is waking up with lots of half-shut eyes and half-opened blinds blinking in the morning sun. I am looking forward to the bright displays of autumnal produce, preserves, meats, and treats. I wait at The Cross to get a view of the stalls as they set up down East Street. After a while, I find Aime, the market organiser, who introduces me to each stall as we pass. I begin to realise I will be leaving with a lot of tasty food. But before that, I have a job to do…So, I get started interviewing the oldest stallholder on the street.
Ken’s Free Range Eggs
As I approach the well-stocked stall, full of gleaming eggs and colourful preserves, I’m greeted by two gentlemen: Ken and his friend.
“We have been coming to the market for ten years,” explains Ken’s friend.
“Ken’s a part of this place. He comes from up near Seaford college.”
I ask Ken what his favourite part of the morning is.
“It’s not the cold,” he says roughly, “But I wouldn’t miss one. I am always here.”
East Ashling Nurseries
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My next port of call is East Ashling Nurseries, a stall of perennials, colourful flowers, and elegant grasses. I greet the stall owner and ask him how long he has been coming here.
“I personally don’t do a lot of market stalls, as my niece normally does them. I do mostly garden shows in the summer. I am coming to the end of my market days. I have been doing it now for 49 years.”
I am intrigued by his exquisite display of flowers and foliage, so I ask him what kind of plants he usually grows at his nursery.
“We grow perennials and annuals, and over the Christmas period, the nursery is taken over with cut Christmas trees – we get them from someone in Horsham. We used to get them from Scotland, but it is more eco-friendly and more sensible to get them local. It all helps with the food miles.”
Locally-sourced produce is a wise move for sustainable agriculture, and one of the many values the Chichester Farmers’ Market holds dear. I purchase a small pot of thyme, trying not to remember all the herbs I have killed off in the past. I move on to the next stall feeling a bit like a modern hunter-gatherer with my growing bag of goodies.
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The next stall is very well-presented and full of treats. I try some delicious salted caramel fudge and savour the taste before I start asking questions. The stall owner tells me how she started selling here in Spring 2021 and has been coming ever since. She explains that learning how to make fudge is both a complicated and very enjoyable experience. I ask her what she enjoys most about the market days.
“I really enjoy selling my own product. I have worked in retail for a long time, but I’ve never felt so much joy selling something I have made myself. And when you arrive and everyone is setting up, it’s just a lovely buzz, you know? You want everyone to do well and sell all their goods. I really like the bagels. I always go over there to have a chat with Tino, the owner.”
I take Stacey’s word for it, and I head over to Tino’s stall called Jacob’s Bagels.
Jacob’s Bagels UK
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The stand is hard to miss; as I approach a stall stacked high with all kinds of bagels, I am greeted by Tino, a cheery man who radiates the bright-eyed enthusiasm of a genuine morning person.
“Hi, Tilly. How are you?” He beams.
We are soon talking hard and fast about his love of bagels.
“So, what would you like to try? You should try those, and try these. And definitely try that! Those are made with sesame seeds; black sesame seeds on the inside and white on the outside.”
Tino gets up at 3 am and makes 500 bagels per day, a figure which he hopes will grow to 1000 in the next six weeks. Tino quickly explains how he got here.
“A long time ago, I sold small businesses the idea of having their own radio show or a television show, and I recorded them all in a large studio which was an extension of my house. We had been struggling for a few years. When Covid hit, we drew a line under it and did nothing. Then I woke up one morning, and I fancied a bagel, and I went on a mission to find a bagel. I found bagels but no bagels I would go back for. So, I started making bagels, and throughout the Covid pandemic, we delivered them to local houses. When the restrictions were lifted, the deliveries stopped, and we started looking at farmers’ markets.”
I am touched by his inspiring story of a self-made business built up from nothing. I ask him what he likes most about his profession.
“I have been self-employed for 20 years now, and this business is by far the most enjoyable. It’s not just about selling things; I know that people are enjoying my food. Guess what? They give us some money as well. We are making something people like, and that’s amazing to me.”
“Would you ever consider collaborating with other people in the industry?” I ask.
“All that is about helping small businesses. Do you know about Audrey’s Chocolate Shop Ltd in Brighton? They look like a small shop, but they are actually quite extensive. They supply some massive high-profile companies with their chocolates. My friend set us up, and then they thought about putting ginger in a bagel, and chocolate. So that’s what we are going to be doing.”
There are definitely some tasty things to come for Jacob’s Bagels in the future.
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At the ‘Wild Roots’ stall, I meet Rebecca and Jenny, two very enthusiastic stall owners who waste no time introducing their business and sustainable ethos. This is their first-ever market day. Rebecca started the business after working as a chef in the wedding industry for 30 years; as she wraps her scarf more tightly around her, she explains how Wild Roots came about.
“Last year, I started Wild Roots with the food I make from my foraging expeditions on my friend’s farms. I make all my own chutneys and sauces, which you can see before you. When we went into lockdown, I met Jenny, and she wanted to add to the business and make the vegan food you see here, which goes along with my ‘Wild Roots’ philosophy.”
I am intrigued by a pot of Caponata, a mezze dish of slow-cooked aubergine and tomato. So I purchase a pot along with a large jar of marmalade for my father.
“How are you enjoying working together?” I ask them both.
“We love it! We live very close, making it easy to work together and share food. So, if I get a veg box and don’t like the beetroots or need to use up my cauliflower soon, I let Jenny know, and she comes round. We go back and forth and feed each other. She fed me when I wasn’t feeling very well with Covid.”
It is cheering to hear that these two friends have started their own business over lockdown, and strengthened their friendship in the process.
Selsey Willow Seafood
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As I approach the Selsey Willow Seafood, a customer is holding up a skate (fish) for inspection; a large- boned flatfish with white flesh. As she pays for the fish, I ask her how she likes to cook the it.
“With lots of chilli in a deep pan and garlic. My partner likes skate because they don’t have little bones, only the backbone. This one is lovely and large.” She smiles as she pockets the fish.
Selsey Willow Seafood is a family business that has been around for a hundred years. Their boat is called the Rapid Return, which you can see proudly displayed on their banner at the back of the stall.
First, I ask the owner, Richard Langford, what is in season.
Richard’s favourite fish to cook with is the Selsey Prawn, which he describes as tasting “like lobster.” These prawns are only available in the winter months from October to January. Crab is also very abundant at this time of year, and James holds one up so I can get a better look. It’s an absolute delight to learn about a family-run business that connects the land to the sea. I can only imagine the satisfaction they must feel for keeping their trade alive for a hundred years.
The Wild One’s Flock: The Society of St. Columba
I leave the Selsey Willow’s Seafood behind and move on to lamb and wool at the ‘The Wild One’s Flock’. The owner, Greg, soon fills me in on his farm, flock, and pursuit of sustainable living.
The Wild One’s Flock is based on a farm near Chanctonbury Ring. They are currently converting one of the old cattle buildings into an environmental education centre through fundraising in the local community.
I ask Greg about his work on the land, and how he feels about sustainable living.
“I love sustainable living, not just because of climate change but because societal resilience is so fragile at the moment. One of the reasons for this lack of resilience is that people don’t have access to their own land. We have 23 acres of land, which is leased on a long-term basis. The combination of sheep farming and rewilding means we are investing in sustainability and resilience.”
“We are investing in the ecology and biodiversity of the area. For example, sheep have a lot of functions; not only do we get fantastic meat and wool from them. They are also an endangered breed, the Manx Loaghtan which we crossbreed with the Shetland and the Icelandic.”
Greg is working towards rewilding the land, including planting a four-acre woodland, a forest garden, four acres of wildflowers, and restoring a pond.
Before I leave, I buy some of the beautiful-smelling natural grey wool for my sister, who will be able to turn it into a jumper, no doubt.
The Tomato Stall
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At about 10am, I meet my father at the market, and we both make our way over to a stall full of red tomatoes, orange peppers and green Padron peppers.
As my father buys some tomatoes, owner Pat tells us how many markets he goes to from Chichester to London. He works with a team of sellers all over the country selling salads that are grown in the Isle of White. What I notice about this stall is the lack of plastic packaging and the enthusiasm of the stallholder. The colourful produce made me feel a little warmer on this cold morning.
Flavours of South Africa: Biltong & Boerewors
After so many conversations about food, I was beginning to salivate, and I only made it to one more stall before I had to sit down and start eating my purchases. I came upon The Flavours of South Africa – an award-winning biltong air-dry curing business that uses local beef and South African recipes to make savoury snacks. The stall owner is delighted when I ask to buy a selection of his different biltong. I have to say, they were delicious finely sliced with some bread before dinner.
The Chichester Farmers’ Market was truly an exciting – and tasty – experience. I recommend popping along to sample some of the fantastic local produce and handmade goods on offer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit every stall into this article – but I am sure I will be back to find more tasty food soon.
Councillor Alan Sutton, Cabinet Member for Housing, Communications, Licensing and Events at Chichester District Council, has said,
“Shopping at our Farmers’ Market not only means you will be helping local traders and getting the best quality produce, but buying local seasonal foods also reduces your carbon footprint.
Our Chichester Farmers’ Market is incredibly popular among local people, and many rely on it for their fresh, seasonal goods and produce. Our traders bring a fantastic variety of products including fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, pastries, eggs, cheese, meat and seafood to the market, which have all been grown, reared, caught or made within a 50-mile radius of Chichester.
Following the pandemic, it’s now more important than ever to support our local traders and small businesses to help them recover. Supporting district businesses is really important to us, and the market has a crucial role to play in the success of the high street.
Shopping at our Farmers’ Market not only means you will be helping local traders and getting the best quality produce, but buying local seasonal foods also reduces your carbon footprint.
I’d encourage everyone to pop along — the markets are held on the first and third Friday of the month in Chichester city centre from 9am until 2pm.”
If you have a recipe inspired by produce at the farmers market which you would like to share with the community, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can learn more about the Chichester Farmers’ Markets and sign up to receive updates by visiting: www.chichester.gov.uk/farmersmarket. You can also follow www.facebook.com/ChichesterDistrictEventsAndMarkets for updates on the markets and other events across the Chichester District.