I am delighted to write an article about the benefits of buying real food straight from the producers as, it’s something that is very close to my heart.My passion for fresh produce.
It was during my childhood years that I developed a passion for fresh produce.
“Come on Jake eat up your greens, they’re from Grampy’s garden”. Mum would say “otherwise he’ll be so upset”. Eating Sunday lunch I didn’t need any encouragement because this was my favourite meal of the week. The table creaked with bowls piled high with, roast potatoes and parsnips, sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, swede and carrot mash, roast chicken and stuffing with lashings of rich dark gravy and a dollops of bread sauce.
The smell of the vegetables cooking was heaven, the anticipation was so immense!
It would take me hours to finish my food which included second and maybe even third helpings!
One day when my sister Rachel decided she had eaten enough, she turned to my mum and said “mummy! I’m full; can I put the scraps in the bin?” My mum replied “oh, go on then”. Rachel stood up, walked over to me and scraped the left-overs off her plate onto mine.
For some reason my mother has always entertained visitors by relaying this story at family get-togethers and parties. I suppose I owe her that small pleasure after all those lovely Sunday dinners!
During the summer holidays my younger brother Adam and I would often stay in our grandparents house in Rhoose. This was great because I could watch my grampy tending, what seemed as a child to be a massive, multicolored vegetable patch which stretched around the back, side and front of their bungalow. He had sprouts, cabbages, carrots, leeks, onions, potatoes, cauliflowers, tomatoes, and so much more! I was a very inquisitive child so I would always ask him questions about his garden and amazingly he never tired of answering them. I could tell that he was in his element when he talked about his garden. Fourteen years on, I still like to ask him about his garden when we meet up, just to hear the pride in his voice.
Busy in my lab!
It was grampy who encouraged me to become a chef when I left school although I was desperate to join the RAF. We were staying in mums caravan in Pembrokeshire during the summer of 1997 when nanny and grampy came to visit us. Grampy sat me down and asked me what kind of job I would like to do. I was so desperate to join the RAF and fly in search and rescue helicopters that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. This used to be a running joke in my family as had a fear of heights and I wasn’t very good at finding things either! Anyway, grampy turned to my mother and said “Anita! I think this boy of yours should be a chef, as he loves his food so much”. my mum and I both thought this would be a great idea as I could still join the RAF as a chef. With my feet staying on the ground!
At the age of seventeen I was studying catering in college when I started to think that vegetables were severely under-rated. I got this impression that the rest of my classmates thought that the vegetable section of the menu was not important. They either thought it was the “boring part of the menu” or that it was an added extra so it wasn’t important to create a good side dish of vegetables. I really couldn’t understand this! After all I had learned throughout my childhood about how lovely this so-called “boring part of the menu”, I couldn’t understand why my friends felt this way. So I took it upon myself to volunteer in cooking and developing the majority of the vegetable dishes served on our menu. I made things like croquette potatoes with english mustard, celery braised in a beef jus, carrot and coriander mousse, leek and potato roulade with cheddar cheese to name but a few.
A very proud chef!
One of the things that are not taught in catering college is how fulfilling running your own food business can be. Ever since I started catering college I had a desire and determination to run my own business. It was about twelve months ago that I started to do my research for the business. My original idea was to set up a delicatessen but I soon realised that it would cost tens of thousands of pounds to do this without any guarantee of any customers. Whilst researching I discovered that it was possible to set up a business for much less than that by producing chutneys that were made from fresh local fruit and vegetables.
This fresh local produce is available from farmers markets which are popping up all over South and West Wales.
Farmers Markets Versus Supermarkets
Meeting the producers.
The great thing about buying from farmers markets is that you get to meet the people whose produce you are purchasing. You can get anything from organic vegetables (which are usually harvested just a few hours before going to market) and organic meats, to gourmet cheeses and ice creams. You can ask the producer anything about their produce knowing that they will be able to give you an informative answer. Whereas if you went to a supermarket and asked the staff about the produce they sell you would probably get an “I don’t know, mate!”
The time difference between the farmer harvesting and you the customer purchasing the vegetables, is very important, as most lose their vitamins and minerals very quickly after being harvested. The best way to prevent this vitamin loss is to freeze the vegetables. It has been proven that “pre-packed vegetables available in supermarkets have 50% less vitamins and minerals than loose vegetables, like the ones found at farmers markets” (Which? Health Report 2005). Also the widely used practice of packing meats in a protective atmosphere, also known in the trade as gas-packing has been criticized by the Food Standards Agency. This is a process where the meat packs are filled with a gas that artificially prevents any natural discolouring, therefore giving the buyer the illusion that the meat is fresh, when in fact that piece of steak could be anything up to 2 weeks old!
Much of the organic produce is cheaper than you would find in any supermarket because there’s no middleman to pay, it just you and the farmer. You can also be assured that the farmers will be getting a fairer price for their work whilst you pay a reasonable price for your fresh produce. At the moment most farmers are put under immense financial pressure by the supermarkets because they demand lower prices than it costs to farm the produce and the majority of the supermarkets can take up to 90 days to pay for their orders. In the UK we pay over a billion pounds a year out of our taxes, to subsidise European farmers. This means that we are not getting the bargains we think we are getting in the supermarket. If we were to support our farmers by buying from them directly, it would ease the financial pressure on them and we could save millions of taxpayers money.
As I mentioned earlier there are over 50 farmers markets held each month in South and West Wales. This means that nearly everyone will have a farmers market near them at some point during the next four weeks. There are three ways that you can buy from producers at farmers markets:
You can shop in person. I love this because you can taste before you buy!
You can order over the telephone. Most farmers markets will have a website where you can obtain a phone number for the producer you are buying from.
You can shop online at the Farmers Market in Wales’s website (www.fmiw.co.uk).
One last thing to remember!
Try to buy seasonal produce. My wife Sally always says “you wouldn’t expect to buy an Easter egg at Christmas would you?”.
Anyway! Happy shopping guys!