At their best, farmers markets should embody the virtues of rural communities with producers selling direct to customers and keeping ‘food miles’ to a minimum.
Stokesley farmers market – which is now into its third decade – fits that bill perfectly, featuring only the finest micro-producers from the surrounding area.
It means that those who produce the food and drink on sale understand it and take pride in its quality. More importantly the producers are the people behind the stalls, they are able to speak directly to their discerning customers.
That relationship has proved a winning formula, with up to 40 traders popping up on market days, attracting large crowds come rain or shine.
Run by Northern Dales Farmers Markets, a not-for-profit organisation, Stokesley was named the UK Farmers Market of the Year UK in 2014 and has been attracting national publicity ever since, including being featured on the BBC’s Farmers Country Showdown.
Care is taken to offer stall space to a healthy mix of food and drink producers – meaning customers can shop for everything from fresh baked bread and rare breed pork sausages, to locally distilled gin and local honey.
The market has served traders and customers alike through the good times and the bad.
In recent years, as the country tentatively emerged from Covid-19 lockdowns, outdoor events like markets were among the first to be given permission to re-start and, with safety measures in place, customers were quick to return to the familiarity of their favourite market.
The markets also provided a financial lifeline for stallholders who found their businesses struggling with limitations being placed on many of their usual outlets.
Like many farmers’ markets, Stokesley’s began life in the bleak days after the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001. The markets were created to help rural economies to recover, giving small producers the opportunity to sell direct to the consumer. Those dark early days are a distant memory and this thriving market has become a firm fixture in the bustling social calendar of this historic town.
Stokesley Town Council has been unstinting in its support over the years for this jewel in the crown, and as confidence and normality returned to the High Street after the pandemic, the farmers market retained the loyalty of its customers who value the quality and provenance of the food they find there.
Market manager Nigel Davison said: “At this market, customers know the person behind the stall will be passionate about the products they are selling, because they have grown it, reared it, or made it, and they can wax lyrical about it all day long. They are also able to test new products and get feedback firsthand.
“My job as market manager is to provide diversity and variety at each market. We have been praised for that, people can almost do a full week’s shop. That is what a market should be.”
While the market is dominated by food producers, there are some craft-sales, though they are restricted to those with a connection to the food industry, such as a potter selling kitchenware.
The market takes place on the first Saturday of the month and runs from 9am to 2pm.