I was born in Wrexham in 1950, so I am one of the ‘sixties generation’ and still shares its values.
I’ve always loved markets, and after living in different parts of Europe and Canada, I came back to Wales in 1993 to work at Community Music Wales in Cardiff, carrying in the back of my mind the idea of setting up a farmers’ market here.
I spent a year at the School of Social Entrepreneurs set up by Michael Young who also set up the Consumers’ Association and Open University. The idea of the course was to learn to be “business-like but for social benefits”. At the end of that course I was ready to put my dream of running a farmers market into motion.
I set up Riverside farmers’ market in 1998, pipped to the post by a couple of months by Bath farmers’ market to being the first in Britain.
It began with around a dozen stalls appearing once a month, then went weekly, and eight years ago moved to its present site on the Taff embankment opposite the Millennium Stadium.
The idea of setting up a market really inspired me because it has an economic dimension, a social justice dimension, environmental and cultural dimensions. The social and personal sides of the market are just as important to me as the fact you can buy good food there..
I am disappointed that farmers’ markets are still perceived as being for a limited number of people, the affluent or those with high level of education.
But I think that the food landscape is about to change massively.
Food production and distribution is highly dependent on oil, and as oil becomes scarcer, the intensively farmed and imported food we buy through supermarkets will become more expensive and the alternatives relatively cheaper. Local food markets are going to slowly but surely become a much more important part of the food supply for everybody. In the meantime we’re trying to make sure there’s enough of a small scale agricultural economy in Wales while the bigger picture is changing.
Much of the food on sale at the farmers’ market is competitive with supermarket prices anyway, but we have been hypnotised in this country to think when it comes to food that cheap is good in a way the rest of Europe has not. My experience of France, for example, is that people are not buying sliced bread, they’re buying a fresh baguette and some nice cheese.
They may be spending a bit more of their income on that but we’re talking about quality of life here. It’s what you choose to do with your money. Health, quality of life, being part of a community are as important as anything else. If people spent a little more of their household income on food, as they do in many continental countries, they might value food more.
In this country between 20% and 30% of what people buy gets thrown away. If you buy vegetables you can have fantastic food really cheaply if you make it yourself, and it’s a pleasure to cook if you know how to. And it’s healthy for you and your kids to eat stuff that’s been made from fresh.
If I go down to the Riverside market I can never spend less than two hours there because I have to chat with all the stallholders. They’re really interesting characters because they’re all individualists.
Other activities, which have been part of Riverside’s work since the early days, include work with local schools, taking schoolchildren to farms, and running cooking sessions in the local community.
We also run a community allotment garden in Cardiff and have rented some land in Cowbridge to create an organic horticulture business that will be growing and selling food locally and training people to grow their own.
I think that good businesses of the future will be need to be more environmentally sound and based on collaboration than competition. It’s a change of culture. That makes me happy because that change of culture is precisely what the ‘60’s generation always wanted to achieve.
Steve Garrett oversees Riverside Community Market Association (RCMA) and its associated activities, including setting up three other farmers markets in Cardiff; education and outreach activities (including the Riverside Community Allotment) and the RCMA Market Garden project, a new social enterprise, which will provide training in horticulture for local people and help create a sustainable food chain in Cardiff. He sits on panels and committees that advise local and national government on food policy, and hopes to contribute to a more sustainable and future-oriented food system in Wales. In the little spare time he has, Steve plays guitar and gigs under the name of Stainless Steve. He is proud father to an eight-year old son who keeps him on his toes, and he is governor at Severn Primary school. He currently lives in Riverside.
Steve was photographed at Riverside Farmers’ Market by Adam Chard
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