I realised something when I visited Leominster Farmers’ Market last Saturday. I may sound like a naïve city-dweller in saying this, but since we so often assume our ‘don’t make eye contact’ experience of city life is universal, I think it is still worth saying: rural community life, so often presumed to have been left in the past along with thatched cottages and milkmaids, is not only alive and well, but actually thriving.
No sooner had I reached Leominster market than I was approached by a friendly lady whom I think was called Cathy. I explained my project to her. “Oh, you must speak to David!” she exclaimed. The woman behind us turned round. She was selling flowers. “David is my husband,” explained flower lady. “He runs the farmers’ market here in Leominster.”
At this point I was frogmarched, somewhat bewildered, over to David. David was wearing a badge with his nickname, The Man With The Hat, written on it. “What do you want?” he asked. At this point, I wasn’t sure I did want anything from David. I had carefully prepared everything I wanted to get out of this trip the night before in my designated leather notebook, and speaking to The Man In The Hat wasn’t on the list.
He seemed slightly suspicious of my motives at first, but once I explained I wasn’t a profiteering visitor from some foreign corporate world, but only a slightly less sinister market enthusiast, he turned out to be thoroughly charming, and he gave me lots of useful information about Leominster market.
I found out that it is held once a month, and has been running for 12 years, although it had to be brought back to life from the ashes after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001. Clearly this was successful, as on the day I am there, the market is filled to capacity with 23 stallholders arranged around the perimetre of the town square.
Perhaps most excitingly of all, David told me that this December the market is holding a Victorian day, where all the stallholders will be dressed up as 19th century vendors.
There is a good variety among the produce available. You could get all your staples here, but the balance was definitely swung in favour of novelty items.
The prize for the most aesthetically pleasing stall had to go to Foxgloves Liqueurs, who sell liqueurs made from the fruit found in gardens and hedgerows. Their bottles, backlit by the sun, glinted like some sort of pagan reimagination of a stained glass window. I was mesmerized. Berrow Honey provided a large and delicious selection of honey, of which I tried the lime and the orange flavours. There was the delightfully alliterative Piggott’s Perfect Puddings. You could also buy handmade felt and, to my joy, rescue an owl.
The Man With The Hat seemed keen that I speak to as many of the stallholders as possible. “Andy! You must speak to Andy!” he cried. “Once you get him going, he doesn’t stop talking.” And so it went on. I was certainly not at a loss for introductions.
One thing that everybody seemed to stress was the loyalty of the Leominster customers to the market and the camaraderie that existed among the stallholders. Each person I spoke to seemed to have a real loyalty to Herefordshire itself. I sensed that the friendship and cohesion I was witnessing had arisen organically, rather than out of a stalwart allegiance to the abstract idea of a “community” that must be forged for the health of society. It just seemed natural.
Country and city are constantly vying for supremacy in our hearts and minds. While at the ripe young age of 23 I’m not quite ready to turn my pastoral fantasies into realities, I did come away contented to know that community-centered lifestyles are still possible.
What do you think? What is the sense of community like at your local market?