Thursday, 7 January 2010

Virtual Farmers Market: A Nail In The Coffin

About once or twice a week I walk down the road to my local grocers. I roam his shop fondling and smelling the fruit and veg I am about to buy for the week. I can spend ages in there chatting to the owner about where the veg has come from and sometimes bend his ear on ways to prepare them. I am particularly fond of the Romsey plum tomatoes when available along with his large selection of squashes. I then wander a little further into a local deli where I pick up some cheeses, perhaps some Snowdonia Black Thunder and usually a hunk of Chevre Log. They also sell the most amazing Somerset butter which almost always finds it's way into my fridge. For meat I go a little further out the way, up to a butchers where the banter always flows and the old boys are happy to talk to me about the different grades of beef they have in the store room, I've often been in there to be shown the sides of cows hanging and learnt exactly where the each cut comes from. After a little bit of schooling and some generous portions I carry my shopping home. Fresh air, exercise and helping keep local business' alive.

Now let me turn your attention to a new website. This week saw the launch of the worlds first virtual farmers market. Essentially an online, mail order deli with a 3D interactive market simulator. Why does everything have to go online. I'm sure most food lovers relish the occasion of going to a farmers market once in a while or taking a trip to their local deli. This website has saddened me greatly. What's next? will we even go to restaurants or just plug in a taste adaptor via USB whilst twittering our opinions? How long before we don't leave the house, are we destined for a virtual life similar to the Matrix, plugged into our computers, working from home and online mail order. It's scary to think of how quickly social networking has pushed us into a new era where no matter how idyllic a lifestyle these back to basics TV shows may portray, the chances are, your watching it online whilst you have another tab open shopping for those cute wellies the presenter is wearing or googling where to buy a bundt tin similar to that one Nigella has in her staged kitchen.
Websites like this are contributing to the death of the grocer, the deli shop and one day the butchers. No more cheeky banter by the till or a little discount for being a regular. Those days could be on the way out. So if you don't already, find a good grocers, butchers and deli. If they don't stock something you want, ask them to get it in. You should find little if any difference in your shopping budget by frequenting independent shops such as these. In fact my meat is almost always cheaper than supermarkets and not only local and free-range but tastier. Don't fall into the trap of gnawing on the edge of your keyboard. You're supposed to love food, so be more hands on about it, and I don't mean the keyboard and mouse. Get outside and buy something the old fashioned way. Virtual Farmers Market has a £35 minimum order, I know the deli doesn't...


  1. Have just read your post and sort of agree, but I do feel there is a place for a combination of online shopping that can still support local producers and visiting them directly. I like the philosophy of anything that can support local producers, which essentially I am sure is what the Virtual Farmers Market is trying to do. The founder of the site himself is part of a family run business that sells its products at farmers markets and food fayres, so I am sure this site was set up with the best intentions.

    There is a website that can offer both options of ordering from local producers online and finding out where they are in the UK. This is It has local producers from all over the country, from food producers, jewellery makers, artists, furniture makers, you name it, The Local Product Company lists it.

    People can either find what they want online and then go to the producers website directly to order, or find what they want and visit the farmshop, producer, gallery, shop, etc. As long as the local producer is supported, that is all the site wants to promote.

    It is a relatively new site so has lots of work still to do, but with over 2000 local producers listed it is an alternative option for any individual or organisation who want to ensure the future of local businesses.

  2. Thank you for commenting Maria. I appreciate that, for some people who may not have the opportunity or ability to visit farmers’ markets or independent food retailers, sites like these offer what could otherwise be unavailable. However the time may come when you want to pick someone’s brains on what best to cook those buffalo steaks with and on that day the local butchers may be gone. I just hope people visit these shops in between their one-click buying. Producers put in so much effort, maybe we should reciprocate that a little…

  3. Marcus Carter AKA “The Virtual Farmer”
    After 20 years in farming and 10 years manufacturing with my family business in the independent food world I couldn’t agree more with your intention to support and keep the ’real world’ deli’s, butchers and grocers alive. My standing in the snow yesterday at my own market stall in London is testament to the passion I hold for great, independently produced food. The Virtual Farmers Market is, as Marie suggests in her comment, absolutely set up to support the producers and help them fight against the supermarkets for every pound that is already being spent online (not on the high street).

    We aim to target the £4.4billion (dew to be £7billion in 24 months) spent at supermarkets online that the small producers haven’t previously had access too. If at the same time we help those who find it hard to get out and about to get some great products then that is fantastic too. Our research has shown that those of us that enjoy the banter at the butchers, the smell of the cheese and the feel of the fruit and veg will continue to shop that way (the “hunter gathers” is very strong in the UK). It’s those who want to support the small guys and need the convenience of online that we want to help producers get there product to.

    My intention is to bring the independent manufactures together to go against the supermarkets on-line as one united force… consumers who walk the supermarket aisles will by their nature walk the high-street, farmers markets and farm shops looking for top ups to there regular shop. I am looking to offer the same experience to people who do the same shop online and can now enjoy the same top up options with

  4. where do you live "Lost in the larder"
    I live in rural Lincolnshire - the county that produces so much of this country food, but does not have the affluence or population to support many farmers markets it would seem.
    I would use Virtual farmers Market - to strike a blow at the supermarkets dictating and controlling the choices we make, the way our food is produced and where it comes from.

  5. I live on the South Coast but am actually from North East Lincolnshire myself where a lot of my family still live. I understood just as much then as I do now that producers, often being based in rural locations, can have a hard time turning over their stock. Striking out against the supermarkets that have crippled dairy farmers and dictated market prices for too long have made it increasingly hard for the shops and markets I mentioned to ply a trade. I hold my hands up now and admit I, like many, buy things online. And if my local suppliers refused or could not get hold of something, I would look for the top up by any means available. The fact is that many people fall into the lazy category and don’t give their independents a chance. In a digital age that is increasingly growing, I suppose with out adapting to the market place we could kiss these wonderful producers goodbye. And that’s not what anyone wants. There are many producers, that could not continue during rationing after the second world war and some have only just resurrected themselves in the last ten to fifteen years. I understand how important reaching a wider audience is to sustain themselves and continue to grow. My friend recently tagged along with my wife and I on a shop, he was mesmerized by how much the individual store owners knew about their stock and the tips on pairing, preparation and cooking we gathered during our short jaunt. He commented on how sometimes in the supermarkets the checkout assistants don’t speak or even know which aisle to find certain products. He has since gone out and found independent shops where he lives, or so he tells me anyway.

    Marcus, thank you for such a friendly and informative response. I love your Patchwork Pates. I get them from some friendly ladies at a deli nearby.

  6. Difficult isn't it? I think it's about finding a balance. While I mourn the demise of small bookshops in our area I also buy from Amazon. I think it's a question of price and convenience.It's the same with food. In the town where I live the past fifteen years has seen off three butchers, a wet fish shop, two bakeries and four small newsagents. Last year the local grocer closed down and now operates from a stall outside the only butchers left. The high street is a mixture of charity shops and estate agents, bland and boring and no personality. Needless to say Tesco and Sainsburys are close by. The bad weather has left us totally reliant on the supermarket. No longer can we makea short walk into town and get what we need. We only have ourselves to blame for not using local shops but then in these straightened times cost is a major factor.