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Shop Better, Shop Local 

Sarah Hill Wheeler explains how to make the most of local farmers markets this Christmas
 
Christmas can be a stressful time for food shoppers.

Few of us find the crowds, checkout queues and tannoyed carols very uplifting. Predictions of a national Brussels sprouts shortage have hardly added to the festive cheer. 

Meltdown in the supermarket aisles seems a distinct possibility. 

Fortunately, there is an alternative. Canny Swindon shoppers and foodies are making the most of local farmers’ markets and produce sales.  In the run-up to Christmas, there will be markets in Swindon, Wanborough, Malmsbury and Wootton Bassett.

Farmers’ markets are not only good for the local economy; they also offer consumers something a little different. True, you can get free-range turkey in Sainsbury’s, but it’s not quite the same as buying a bird directly from the smallholder who reared it. Buying local can make you feel more connected to your food. 


Seasonality plays a big part in this. Purple sprouting looks better without the cellophane. Psychosomatic perhaps, but it also tastes better freshly harvested from a local farm, rather than air freighted in from Zimbabwe.

Seasonal produce also adds to the festive feel. Brussels sprout trees have become as symbolic of Christmas as their distant tinsel cousins, but in a very different way. (Yes, there will be sprouts at the markets this Christmas, local farmers, V.P. Collins, have confirmed. However, they may be smaller than usual because of the wet weather and attacks by local deer).

So what’s on offer locally in the run-up to Christmas?

The Sunday farmers’ market at the Designer Outlet is gearing up for a busy time. Organiser, Karien Gerb Gerbrand, promises “the biggest markets we have ever held” in the next two weeks. Around 30 local producers will tempt shoppers with everything from organic meat and poultry to handmade doughnuts.

The market will have a distinctively festive feel. Julian Harvard will be selling Christmas wreathes and stylish table decorations, made with foliage from his cottage garden in Gloucestershire. Local artisans will provide an opportunity to buy some last-minute presents.

However, Gerb is also keen to emphasise the social aspect of the farmers’ market. One of its highlights is “the fabulous range of hot food available.” This is street food with a rural twist. In addition to the traditional hot dogs, bacon baps and hog roasts, there’s hot chicken soup, paella and falafel pittas. Those still hungry can finish off with a freshly baked cupcake or pastry. 

Shoppers may also want to make a trip to their local country market. Country markets are the successor to the old WI stalls. They offer a slightly different way of buying local produce. Run as co-operatives, they allow individual cooks, bakers, gardeners, smallholders and crafters to sell direct to the public.

Everything on offer must be homemade or home grown. Smaller in scale than the farmers’ markets, they can be a good place to pick up homemade mince pies, chutneys and cakes.

Local charity, the Jubilee Gardens Project, is also offering seasonal produce and decorations from its base in Purton. The charity, which provides training in horticulture for adults with learning difficulties, is selling homemade chutney and preserves, pickled cabbage and shallots.

Their end-of-term Christmas show, which featured holly wreathes, bunches of mistletoe and table decorations, quickly sold out. Proof that Christmas shopping can still deliver that feel-good factor. 

Farmers’ Markets

Swindon, McGlenn Designer Outlet - Sunday, 16th and 23rd December, 10am – 4pm.

Malmesbury, Market Cross - Saturday, 22nd December, 9am -1pm.

Wotton Bassett, High Street - Saturday, 22nd December, 9am – 1pm.

Wanborough, Village Hall - Saturday, 15th December, 9am -12 noon.

Country Markets

Swindon, St Aldhelm’s Church Hall, Edgeware Road - Friday, 14th  and 21st December, 9am – 12 noon.

Cricklade, the Club, 38 High Street - Friday, 21st December, 9am – 11 am.

Jubilee Gardens Project

Church Bush Hall, Cricklade Road, Purton Stoke, Swindon, SN5 4HY. 

(The Hall is on the B4553 Cricklade to Purton road, approximately 500 metres south of the Purton Stoke turning). The produce stall is usually open weekdays from 10am until 3 pm. However, it’s best to phone to check times and availability beforehand (01793 771539). 
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