Superstores vs stalls: A look at why people love Balham Farmers’ Market


Some still prefer to know where their food comes from.


London farmers’ markets have felt the full force of supermarket power in the last decade, with many seeing a decline in the amount of people who shop at the weekly stalls.  So, if you can get everything you need at a supermarket, why shop at a farmers’ market?

Balham Farmers’ Market, held at Chestnut Grove Primary School, is one of many spanning London where customers can buy a variety of produce, all sold by the producer. Although the farmers’ market has seen declining interest, the stallholders have sustained a good relationship with a smattering of loyal customers.

Jo Bonnar, of Grove Farm, said: “You’re guaranteed traceability on the food, where it comes from and you also have an educational shopping experience as opposed to the mass packing you get when you go to your supermarkets.”

Mrs Bonnar has been selling meat and eggs from her small family farm near Colchester at markets for eight years and was praised by retail guru Mary Portas for Grove Farm’s high standards. The highly-praised stallholder and her husband let their cows graze outdoors for as long as possible and leave the calves with their mothers for a full year.

Mrs Bonnar said: “I could not produce grass-fed 21-day matured beef in the capacity that the supermarket would want it.”

One Balham Farmers’ Market customer said: “I shop here because you get to know the people you buy from and you know where your food is coming from.”

What goes into our food has been an ongoing problem which was heightened this year with traces of horsemeat found in some supermarket meat. Reports showed that Britons threw away 18million ready meals as a result of the horsemeat scandal, with Prince Charles blaming the scandal on declining farming standards this week.

Peter Coleman, of Laycroft Farm, said: “Like everybody else on this market, these are all animals we’ve kept, reared, slaughtered and then processed specifically to come here and nowhere else.”

Both Grove Farm and Laycroft Farm guaranteed the customer would be able to trace the meat back to the source, with Grove Farm using social networking to keep customers updated and share photos of their livestock.

Mrs Bonnar said: “Supermarkets list all these things on the back of packaging and we just take that as it’s fine to do that.

“I don’t want to be giving my children a list of chemicals to eat, it’s not necessary.”

Children are encouraged to come along to farmers’ markets, try something different and learn about where their food comes from. Stallholders are always on hand to talk about their produce and soon your child may know the difference between a rump steak and a sirloin.

One customer said: “If you realise that an animal’s life has been given to supply you with that food, you’re much more respectful of it.”

Although there may be less variety in what you can buy, farmers’ markets leave you safe in the knowledge of where your food comes from. The weekly shop becomes a pleasure, as opposed to the get-in-get-out tactic of most supermarket shoppers and divides the line between chore and hobby.

Mrs Bonnar said: “It’s a hard life but, in a way, you’re very lucky to love what you do that much that you can do it 24-7.”

Balham Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday 9am-2pm at Chestnut Grove Primary School. For more information of other markets, visit

Photo courtesy of Nate Gray, via Flikr, with thanks.

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