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People and provenance

Words by Lucy Cornes

Truro Farmers Market has been at the grassroots of Cornwall’s food scene since 1999, and is now attracting a new generation of culinary enthusiasts.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, come rain or shine, a host of Cornwall’s finest food and drink producers - plus a talented band of local craft makers - descend on Lemon Quay in the heart of the city to bring their wares direct to the public. For a few hours all is a hive of activity, yet the market days themselves are just the tip of the iceberg for these artisan producers, many of which are sole traders or small family enterprises. Day in, day out, they are hard at work behind the scenes in preparation: growing, baking, fishing, digging, brewing, catching, preserving, nurturing, blending and tasting… these are the hands-on, skilled processes which go into making the market a vibrant, diverse and enticing shopping experience.

Photography Stewart Girvan

One such industrious producer is Goonown Growers, an organic market garden cooperative established by three families who moved to Cornwall to embark on their new project together earlier this year. Led by Ed Sweetman and Rob Alderson, jointly they have a wealth of experience working at large organic market gardens in other parts of the country (Purton House Organics and Glebelands City Growers in Manchester are both providing inspiration for their Cornish enterprise) but spotted a gap in the market for a steady supplier of good quality organic veg here in Cornwall.

Based at Goonown near St Agnes, they rent a relatively small field which, until recently, was common pasture. Today it’s a highly productive market garden, carefully designed to achieve maximum yields and maintain productivity all year round. “Our aim is to use environmentally-beneficial methods to grow tasty food crops we can harvest manually,” explains Ed. “With clever techniques and a quick route to market we can sell our produce at an affordable price, while employing local people and paying them a living wage.”

Photography Stewart Girvan

It’s one of those projects which is simple and ambitious, traditional and progressive all at the same time, and Rob and Ed hope that it will help more local people enjoy the freshest, organically grown veg as a result. Nurturing soil health and encouraging biodiversity are at the heart of their approach, as is getting the local community involved as much as possible – helping to re-establish that connection between people, place and food production.

Photography Stewart Girvan

Goonown Growers have received a rapturous welcome since joining the market in the spring, with people returning week after week to get their seasonal fix of colourful veg, pulled fresh from the ground just hours before. ‘The Goonies’ are just one of several new market producers this year, reflecting the upbeat feel and positive buzz surrounding this humble, grassroots market right now.

Photography Stewart Girvan

The market, which also pops up in Falmouth on The Moor every Tuesday, has had its challenges over the years. Decreasing footfall in the city centre and the rise of online food shopping has changed the trading landscape irrevocably, and there is little a traditional market can do to adapt. However, Truro Farmers Market has always endured thanks to a dedicated operating committee and a loyal local following.

This determination to survive is now paying dividends as shopping habits, lifestyles and preoccupations change once again. Covid-19 has prompted more of us to shop outdoors and avoid crowded supermarkets, whilst reminding us of the importance of access to good quality local food. Concerns about the environment have also seen a younger generation engaging with the market, embracing the opportunity to shop locally, sustainably and ethically.

Awareness of where our food comes from, and how it is produced, is becoming a modern imperative. The effect of all of this is that the market has recently seen a marked resurgence and a renewed sense of vitality, as a new generation of food shoppers discover the joys of this colourful, characterful weekly event. A new eating area, with bespoke seating created by Llawnroc Furniture, has helped create a lively atmosphere, allowing visitors to enjoy globally inspired street food made using local ingredients from The Smoking Longhorn, Daddy D’s Caribbean Kitchen and Kernow Churros. “I think people like coming here, chatting to the producers face to face, and seeing that their hard-earned cash is going directly back into the local economy,” explains Market Chairman Graham Bradshaw, who sells the full range of Cornish Sea Salt at his stall each week. Graham has been coming to the market for 10 years, but his sentiments are echoed by newer attendee Kate Martin of Treway Farm. “I really love the market because of that customer interaction,” Kate enthuses. “People ask a lot of questions about the farm and how we rear our cows and turkeys – there is a genuine hunger for knowledge about provenance, which I find very affirming.”

Photography Stewart Girvan

Kate and her husband Will are first generation farmers who, fresh out of university, bought Treway Farm near St Austell in 2007. They began with a commercial herd of cows which they sold through Truro Livestock Market but then diversified into rearing high-quality turkeys for the Christmas table. These award-winning bronze turkeys are a traditional heritage breed, and are allowed to roam freely amongst the valleys and meadows at Treway, slowly reaching their finishing weight just in time for Christmas. They are game-hung to allow the flavour to develop before being dry plucked; Treway is the only producer in Cornwall to have achieved the ‘Gold Turkey Standard’ accreditation.

The hugely successful artisan turkey business prompted Kate and Will to diversify again into another native, heritage breed – short horn cattle. These small, stocky cattle are easy to look after and docile, and are known as excellent grass converters – meaning they steadily turn grass into fat and muscle without the need for extra feed to take them to their finishing weight. Using a local butcher Kate and Will keep food miles to a minimum and sell their grass-fed beef direct to customers through their website as well as at market. “I think in these times it’s more important than ever to have multiple sales channels,” says Kate. “The balance of the traditional farmers market with online sales works really well for us.”

Photography Stewart Girvan

Like several market producers, including prestigious game meat duo Duchy Game and Cornish Duck, Treway Farm is courted by some of the top chefs in the West Country (you can enjoy their meat at Penrose Kitchen, where Ben and Samantha are big supporters of local farmers). Likewise, the Cornish Mushroom Company and Cornish Chillies can be found at market most weeks, and you’ll find both name-dropped on the menus of great restaurants across the region. Cornish Chillies have grown from a small operation to a booming enterprise, with 2,000 plants and 40 varieties growing organically at their base near Summercourt, helping chefs and home-cooks add fresh, punchy flavours to their dishes all year round.

Similarly, Chris Bean of Kernowsashimi sends the majority of his haul to top London Sushi restaurants, but the pick of the catch is available to the public at Truro Farmers Market and usually sells out quickly. Each week regulars make a beeline for the Kernow Sashimi stall where the freshest fish and shellfish can be snapped up – even before it reaches those exclusive eateries in the capital.

Photography Stewart Girvan

Remarkably Chris has spent 50 years as a fisherman on the Helford river, and was at one time Fishing Advisor to the United Nations World Food Programme. Chris and his son Dylan specialise in top quality sustainable fish, landed by small day boats from Helford, Coverack and Cadgwith. Static nets and large meshes ensure practices are kind to the sea habitat and catch only mature fish, allowing them time to breed. Varieties on sale at different times of year include lemon sole, mackerel, red mullet and John Dory. Crab is caught, steamed and picked in-house to ensure freshness and quality.

Photography Stewart Girvan

Another business with the younger generation standing patiently by is The Cornish Mill and Bakehouse. Here David Buscombe heads permutations of family members can be found behind their market stall each week. This flourishing enterprise based at Newlyn East starts with the milling of flour from the family farm, which is then used to produce a huge range of sweet and savoury products on-site. This level of control over the whole process results in outstanding quality and consistency in the production of artisan breads, Cornish pasties, cakes, biscuits and slices – all of which are made fresh in the morning and sold at market the same day.

The market is a true reflection of Cornwall’s enviable food scene; a depth measure of the diversity and quality of artisan food and drink produced locally. From traditional honey made by Heather Bell Honey Bees, to the eagerly anticipated appearance of Tregassow Asparagus every spring, the irresistible array of freshly made Penny’s Pies, and the award-winning wares of The Tin Coast Cheese Company, there’s something for everyone. The market also embraces changing tastes and preoccupations. You’ll find Sauerkraut and Kimchi courtesy of Delea Fermented Foods, a delicious selection of raw chocolate from Food of The Gods creator Dal Hall, and tasty Cornish/Italian fusion TiramisUGO – the ultimate takeaway dessert.

Cornwall’s viticulturalists, brewers, cider makers, distillers and coffee roasters are also supremely well represented. Long-standing market member Bosue Vineyard epitomises Cornwall’s wine-making prowess, whilst Elemental Cornish Gin and Rosemullion Distillery showcase the burgeoning local spirits industry, which shows no sign of abating. Gould Cider and Cuckoo Valley Cider are both excellent examples of the wave of craft cider makers taking the UK by storm, while Landmark Speciality Coffee are a small-batch coffee roastery with the highest sustainability credentials.

Like other weekly markets across the UK, Truro Farmers Market may have changed little over the years, but it continues to succeed, converting new visitors to the joys of local produce on a weekly basis. From one generation to the next, the market remains an important way of connecting people with local food production, instilling a life-long love for good food and rural sustainability along the way.


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