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In the market for change

Words by Hannah Tapping | Images by Kasia Murfet

Championing local produce and shortened food chains, a humble farmer’s barn has been transformed into a go-to foodie destination.

There is nothing more important than food… well maybe coffee, and sometimes wine! Joking aside, food is vital for both life and pleasure. It shapes families, communities and even nations and research has shown that the simple act of eating together not only has psychological, social and mental health benefits but can have a lifelong impact on our relationship with food. It makes sense then, that the food we eat should be the best it can be, and for me that means re-educating myself in the way that I shop. It’s all too easy to use a supermarket for your weekly provisions and lockdown made this even simpler with the increase in the number of ‘click and collect’ or delivery slots. There came a point when I was so far removed from what I was buying that it became almost a robotic process; even the selection of my food was given over to a stranger.

I began to yearn, not just for a European holiday, but also for its food markets; those places where your senses are assaulted with incredible smells, colours and tastes of fresh produce, piled high on stalls with their owners proudly stood behind. Here I would buy selectively, for provenance and quality, and only what I needed. Yes, the cost may have been slightly higher, but actually buying consciously rather than at the click of a button meant we ate better and wasted less.

As you can imagine, discovering that there was a place where you can buy fresh, local, sustainable and regenerative produce here in Cornwall, was music to my ears. The Food Barn Tregew is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company started when Sailors Creek Shellfish and Soul Farm, both tenants at Tregew Farm near Flushing, came together with its visionary landowner to create a space where they could safely sell direct to local people. With the first Food Barn happening in December 2020, the fact that its home was a three-sided ventilated barn was all to the good, providing a Covid-safe environment for both buyers and sellers.

Starting with just five stalwarts, Soul Farm, Sailors Creek Shellfish, the TinBox Coffee Company, Little Crumb Bakery and New Dawn Traders, all of the sellers had a shared ethos that we don’t need food that has travelled hundreds of miles, we can buy fresh local food grown and produced in a regenerative and careful way. It’s worth pausing for a moment to take a closer look at the formative five… Soul Farm grows vegetables using organic principles and no-dig methods. The crops are grown in ‘alleys’ between the trees of a fledgling cider orchard and flourish in a Cornish maritime microclimate, protected by high hedges and nourished in well-drained loamy soil. Near neighbours, Sailors Creek Shellfish, hand-dredge native oysters and queen scallops from the Fal. Much of the catch is destined for France, where some family businesses have been trading with them for generations, while a proportion remains in the UK, including their shellfish counter at the Food Barn.

TinBox Coffee hasn’t missed a single market since the start, keeping traders and visitors alike topped up with Origin hot and cold brews, while Little Crumb bakes kept everyone sweet. New Dawn Traders are a sail-powered cargo company trading in ‘wild ideas and delicacies’ and importing produce from across the Atlantic and along European coastlines to include the world-renowned sea salt of Noirmoutier, organic dried almonds from Trás-os-Montes and extra virgin olive oils from Azeite Caixeiro.

Word quickly grew and Sophie Smith joined the team as Market Manager, adeptly booking, organising and marshalling the stall holders. It very much grew organically in its infancy; word of mouth is a wonderful thing, especially in a small community. As the high street opened up, there was some nervousness as to whether people would still come, as Sophie explains: “We really weren’t sure when all the non-essential shops were allowed to reopen in April last year, if we were going to actually be able to continue. We were worried that people had just used it as something to do when there was little else on offer and that when the high street returned, it would be ‘see you later’! But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It’s just gone from strength to strength. We added in Wednesday evening summer markets last year that attracted a different crowd and had a very chilled out and relaxed vibe, as well as craft markets over Christmas, both of which have continued.”

Having only had to cancel one market during that time, when a big storm stopped play, the Food Barn is very much a part of the Saturday morning calendar. Having heard such good things, I grab my basket and head off to see what all the fuss is about. I arrive at 9:30 (trading starts at 9am) to find an already burgeoning car park and many early birds queuing for the Pavilion Bakery and TinBox Coffee that have clearly made a name for themselves amongst the pastry and barista aficionados.

There is a core group of regular traders who come every Saturday, with a wide range of others that dip in and out, allowing for flexibility and keeping the market fresh and vibrant. Carefully curated by Sophie, sellers of the same goods are not allowed on the same days to maintain balance and variety. The vibe is chilled, with a DJ playing sweet tunes as the smell of buttery pastries and freshly brewed coffee pervades the air. Fully stocked with breakfast, my daughter and I peruse the stalls amidst a happy murmur of fellow shoppers.

Our first stop is Soul Farm whose produce is fresh and vibrant, filling many a basket with organic vegetables. You could happily shop for a weekend of delicious dinners here. Homage to the Bovine, famous for its beef from retired, grass-fed cows, has provenance and flavour at its core, with cow welfare being their number one goal. Hung for at least 28 days, this results in exquisite tasting beef. Another success story is Jack’s Kombucha as Sophie explains: “They set up in lockdown and have literally gone from strength to strength. They started by trading with us and now they’re bottles of Kombucha are available in cafés and delis across the county. Everyone loves them and they have Kombucha on tap at the Food Barn so you can refill your bottles.”

Each and every trader is conscious of using good quality, sustainable produce that is always sourced as local as possible and there’s a conscious awareness of this. Similarly, the typical Food Barn customer is particularly discerning. “Whenever we get new traders, I always ask how they’ve got on at the end of their first market and they always make mention of the fact that our customers are really into their products and their provenance,” says Sophie. Alongside the stall holders that sell their products, there is always a handful of hot food producers. On the day we visit, we are blessed with the sweet smell of French onion soup from Bien Manger which we devour with hunks of sourdough baguette from Pavilion, while looking out across the water – set up on the hill, the view from here is beautiful.

As we pause to refuel, it gives me a chance to mull over why this market feels so different from others I have been to. I conclude it’s the traders that make the difference – most are young, all are enthusiastic, honest, inspirational and talented – and the common goal behind these growers, producers, makers and bakers is what sets them apart, something which is reiterated by Sophie: “We make every effort to maintain the collective ethos, ensuring traders fit the bill for what we want to offer as a market, offering food and drink with the highest quality to create a market for all seasons.”

The Food Barn, Tregew is open every Saturday from 9am-1pm and some Wednesday evenings during school holidays. Follow on social media for the latest events and trader lists.

Instagram: foodbarn.tregew

Facebook: foodbarn.tregew


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