Islington Borough Council is regenerating one of London's oldest street markets, starting by hosting the Whitecross Street Food Festival in conjunction with Market Squared. The event will take place from 6-8 October.
It is hoped the festival, along with existing traders already catering for city snackers, will spark off the long-term street revival. Located just off Old Street, the Whitecross Street market serves a large local catchment including the Barbican, and is within a stone's throw of the city district of Finsbury Square.
The new market will differ from other London farmers markets as restrictions on source will be removed. Producers will be represented from many of the regions of the UK. Existing London farmers market rules are restrictive and anti-competitive, stipulating no producer from outside a 100-mile radius is allowed to be sold.
The success of Borough Market can be followed. The ability to give choice and variety, as well as opportunity, within the centre of London is a learning curve we have taken from the supermarkets.
Food miles, I hear you say. Fly one less jumbo jet to New York and it will cover all the fuel used by all farmers markets in London for the next year. We are a small country geographically. Food miles are prolematic in a global context, not for small regional food groups.
To regenerate inner cities and towns, it's becoming apparent to councils that markets generating high street activity often help to stimulate communities and encourage social integration, especially when food sellers with local or regional produce are involved.
The sad image of cloned towns and cities that we are aware has blighted our high streets and shopping malls is set to change. But focusing on local food is a big challenge to borough councils and also to the producer who in some cases, meat for example, may have to plan up to three years ahead. If, as with many things in this country, we follow our US counterparts, we can expect to see almost total control of the food chain by the big boys.
If you are a meat producer near New York you can attend the farmers market in Union Square but because of pollution you can't have electricity to run your refrigerated display counter or use a generator that might have given you portable power to run a fridge.
Meanwhile, on the corner of the square is a McDonald's lit up like Blackpool illuminations. The sparse meat producers I met on a visit were relying on insulated boxes and ice. Controlling the food chain seems to be in the hands of large agro-industrial conglomerates that in turn are in cahoots with the politicians.
Yet again in the UK, January's changes to legislation by the Food Standards Agency seem to bring uncertainty in determining the end user and who can and cannot supply them. Encouraging farmers to diversify is sadly restricted by the far from level playing field that exists in Europe.
Despite efforts to help UK farmers diversify, more than 70% of the pork we eat is imported from outside the European Union. To see agriculture improve with new CAP reforms where farmers are rewarded for quality, not quantity, it is essential that one or two days' trading is available.
Farmers can then access consumers for low weekly or monthly rentals and educate them in understanding good from bad. Developing niche market products can only be done with the consumer in mind and with the farmer responding accordingly.