Sunday, 24 January 2010

Trouble at the market

News that a Trading Standards inspector was wandering around swept though the farmers’ market stallholders like a bad smell. Customers were ignored or told to come back later, as everyone checked and rechecked the labelling on their produce.
For two pins I’d have packed up and gone home – not that I’d done anything wrong; not as far as I knew, anyway, but it’s the thought of it. It’s like driving past a police roadblock set up to check everyone’s car tax disk. I know my tax is up to date, and I know I’m legal, so why do I drive past staring dead ahead, refusing to glance at the officer as he looks down at the corner of my windscreen for the date on the little round disk, and feel so uncomfortable and guilty!
I looked at the packs of mutton on my stall, the joints and chops, diced and minced, the gorgeous deep red of the meat so much darker than normal lamb against the crisp, almost clinical white of the fat that topped it, all snug in their trays under tight cellophane.
At the other end of the table was the deli stuff; still warm scotch eggs piled high on a tray under a see-though cover, next to homemade faggots and black pudding and hogs pudding. There was bread and rolls and brightly coloured jars of different chutneys and jams, everything neatly packed and very obviously homemade.
I had a large table-top sign next to each group with a list of the ingredients, but hadn’t put any best before labels on anything. I can understand the need for best before dates in supermarkets and shops, but in a farmers’ market they always seem pointless, as all the deli produce is either made early that morning or late in the afternoon the day before.
Even the butchery is done on the day before the market.
Surely that’s why people come to farmers’ markets, because everything is fresh. Stamping produce with a best before date is akin to telling anyone who bakes at home that they have to do the same in case someone other than then picks it up out of the fridge. Madness.
But, legal is legal. I pulled out a sheet of blank sticky labels and began frantically scribbling a best before date of three day’s time, which sounded about right because we never add any artificial preservatives to anything we make. It would probably last longer than three days, but three days was comfortable.
The Trading Standards inspector wasn’t difficult to spot. Elderly, balding, light coloured trench coat, an open folder thick with paper and pamphlets held tight in front of him above a serious business face.
‘Do I know you?’ He said, looking at the stall rather than me.
‘Um, well…no, actually.’
‘Good. Right. So who are you?’
I told him. He wrote it down.
‘Homemade faggots, for real?’
‘Oh, yes,’ I assured him. ‘Everything on the stall is homemade, all grown or reared from my own free range animals that I breed myself.’
He started digging in his pocket. Oh, great. What was he going to do, arrest me? Ban me from trading? ‘There is only one other person in Devon I know of who makes their own faggots, and I’m not even sure they still do it,’ he said, pulling out a ten pound note. ‘I’ll have two. And some mutton. And a scotch egg.’
He handed the note across and smiled. ‘By the way,’ he said, ‘if you’re producing and selling yourself, you don’t need a best before label. Because you’re selling direct to the consumer, if people want to know, they can just ask you.’
Oh what a wonderful breath of sanity!

Just a couple of other points I need to update. First, I might have been a little unkind to the marketing lady at the publishers in my last blog. True, but maybe unkind. I gave it one last shot and sent a brisk, business-like email to her with clear bullet points outlining all the information I needed, and got an apologetic response the same day. Since then we have swapped a couple of emails and she has really gone all out to be as helpful as possible.
The other thing is, I have got Sky One coming down tomorrow to film a piece with me about looking after and re-homing chickens. I’ll try and blog again in a couple of days with photos and an update on how it went and when it will be shown on TV.
One last thing of note, I have secured a monthly column double page spread in a nice glossy magazine on top of my weekly newspaper column. Happy days! First article to appear in April – will blog more on this later.

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