Words by Lucy Studley
A new plastic-free market on Falmouth’s waterfront entices us on a culinary and creative journey.
My senses have gone into overdrive. I’m soaking up a riot of bright colours, an enticing succession of aromas, and the uplifting melodies of a group of local folk musicians playing nearby, as a gentle breeze brings tinkling nautical sounds from the direction of a busy pontoon. All around me stallholders are proudly showcasing their freshly picked, baked and bottled wares, as street-food vendors dish out steaming helpings of Thai curry, balls of crisp herb-flecked arancini, and colourful buddha bowls. Conversations are taking place all around me, as eager shoppers come face-to-face with the artisan maker, organic farmer, craft brewer or local fish merchant responsible for their haul of market finds.
I’ve come to check out Falmouth’s newest weekly event, Discovery Market, which takes place outside the National Maritime Museum most Fridays, bar the odd week when major events descend on the town’s maritime square. Inspired by the market’s pioneering environmentally friendly ethos (it’s entirely free of single-use plastic, but more on that later), I’ve left the car at home and travelled on the branch line train. Low carbon travel options are one of the things the market organisers are keen to highlight; Discovery Quay is easily accessible by train and bus, there are handy bike racks nearby, and electric charging points in the neighbouring car park. You can even arrive by boat, kayak or paddleboard if you’re feeling intrepid! I’ve come in the hope of both a pre-weekend food shop and a tasty lunch, and I’m far from disappointed. In fact, I’m just as enthralled as the many visitors to my hometown arriving via train, coach and cruise ship, for many of whom this is their first sight of Cornwall doing its thing.
Discovery Market was launched in May by some of the team behind Truro Farmers Market, which enlivens Lemon Quay in Truro every Saturday and Wednesday, and also pops up on a smaller scale on The Moor in Falmouth each Tuesday. The cooperative behind these markets celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, and it was the first of its kind in the UK. A small group of local farmers and makers took the initiative back then, pledging to work together to sell direct to the public in the city centre as the power of the supermarkets grew and squeezed out greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers, changing the face of the high street forever.
In its Truro iteration, the market has gone from strength to strength in recent years. Flourishing as a safe and accessible shopping experience during Covid, Market Coordinator Stewart Girvan also introduced seasonal celebrations known as The BIG Markets at key times of the year. A month-long Christmas market brings festive spirit to Lemon Quay every December, and 2023’s yuletide extravaganza will feature the launch of the market’s very own recipe book, celebrating the people and produce behind the market’s remarkable success.
“By their nature, our markets are great for reducing food miles, help to nurture a circular economy, and are a crucial platform for small businesses and family farms,” explains Stewart. “Meat is from non-intensive traditional farms, veg is grown with organic principles, and seafood is sustainably caught and traceable. I could go on explaining all the ways in which we tick the right boxes for the ethical shoppers of today, but in essence it’s a given from a local market centred around small, independent producers!”
For Discovery Market, Stewart and Rebecca Ready – Market Manager for the new venture – wanted to push the sustainability ethos further. They pledged to deliver a market completely free of single-use plastic; all traders are required to use only wooden, paper, compostable or Veg Ware packaging and are encouraged to offer refills where appropriate. Rebecca tells me: “As the market grows and develops, expect to see traders thinking outside the box – using industry alternatives to show that single-use packaging can be eliminated from supply chains for good!
“It was really important to us that the market be plastic free, especially considering the location right by the water in Falmouth,” continues Rebecca. Falmouth Harbour uses a Seabin to collect plastic waste from the marine environment; it’s emptied daily, and audits taken of what is recovered. “The presence of the Seabin really drives home how much litter ends up in the water,” says Rebecca. “Any commercial activity on the waterfront should be taking a particularly active approach as part of a larger effort to reduce unnecessary waste.”
There’s a distinct vibe of positive action at the market, a sense that even small decisions have an impact. It’s a gathering of engaged minds and exciting finds, including some gorgeous artisan crafts from the likes of Real Pressed Seaweed, Lynn’s Willow, Tide and Country, The Mariners Supply Co., and Blystra Candles. Planning my shopping with the plastic-free element in mind, I headed first for a tour of these inspiring local makers followed by a fresh food shop, but not before I’d feasted on gooey arancini from the La Pineta Italian Deli stand, followed by an exquisite salted caramel cannoli. I’m already planning return visits for a taste of the highly-recommend My Mum Makes for some authentic Thai cuisine, and a legendary ‘low and slow’ helping of BBQ food from The Smoking Longhorn. Maybe I should walk next time…
Store cupboard ingredients, freshly baked bread and sweet treats, and gifts for food-loving friends are in ready supply. Great Scott Hot Sauces, Cornish Meadow Preserves, Food of the Gods Raw Chocolate, Landmark Coffee, Da Bara Bakery and Black Rock Gin are some of the regulars you’ll find at market, although the exact make-up of the stalls changes every week. “We want to keep it fresh and exciting, as well as give a variety of traders a chance to take part, so stallholders will come and go,” says Rebecca. One exception is Pysk, a fishmonger based on Discovery Quay which sells local Cornish seafood. Sarah and Giles Gilbert are thrilled to be a core part of the weekly market, with a stall outside their shop selling a wide range of local fish and shellfish sourced primarily from small scale fishers. Sarah says: “The market attracts people who might not necessarily come into the shop on a whim and gives us a great opportunity to talk about sourcing, the amazing diversity of seafood available locally, and exchange recipe ideas!”
Sarah and Giles have had no difficulty adapting to the plastic-free stipulation for traders, for example using cardboard boxes for crab meat and other shellfish, and wrapping fish in paper. Some people bring their own tubs for transporting freshly filleted bass, mullet, sole, John Dory and mackerel. “Selling face-to-face at the quayside market complements our approach perfectly,” says Sarah. “We take care to source the best-quality, seasonal, sustainable fish, aiming to avoid species which are spawning and buy mature fish of an appropriate size. We’re a maritime business, so it’s great to know that no single-use plastic – so much of which sadly seems to find its way into the ocean – is involved in the journey from fishing boat to consumer.”
A colourful and diverse array of fruit and veg is provided by another permanent stall, Roots and Shoots – a three-acre market garden located just outside Falmouth. Using organic growing practices and regenerative farming methods which nurture healthy, nutrient-rich soil, Gemma Taylor and her team grow delicious seasonal produce. “As well as producing nutritious, tasty food, our secondary aim is to help develop resilient food networks for the local community and shorten supply chains,” explains Gemma. “Discovery Market is a fantastic new outlet for us, right on our doorstep.”
My shopping bag is now full to the brim with everything I need for leisurely lunches in the garden over the weekend, and luckily, it’s a short stroll back to the train station for the return journey. As I leave, more marketgoers are arriving in a steady stream, lured by the dulcet tones of a Cornish singer songwriter who has taken to the small entertainment stage. “Wow, I’m glad our journey bought us here,” I overhear someone say as I depart, and I’m inclined to agree.