photo awaiting name of photographer to credit 🙂

My twitter feed is mostly a combination of opulent food posts with gorgeously styled photos, and dire information about ecological and political calamity resulting in hunger.  I can feel both the discordance and how actually it’s a reflection of truth, how people live such very different realities in relation to food and eating.

As a food blogger, obviously I have an interest in delicious food, but I cannot forget inequality or environmental vulnerability, and social issues that concern me, and I most respect other individuals and groups who juggle these same concerns and yet passions.

When I learned that the Crystal Palace Food Market in South London was up for a BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Award in the Best Food Market category award, and that they sought to use the opportunity (as winners or runners-up) to give voice to its aspirations and principles, I felt immediately willing to step up.  

I’d met Laura, one of the market’s co-founders, on-line, through Chris Phyto who is a good friend to the market leading wild food forays and tasting sessions.  Laura was somehow an immediate sister-in-arms, and when I realised that I’d be so nearby in Crystal Palace visiting a friend, I offered to do a Fermenting demonstration and q-and-a for them last November.  She’s a natural organiser, and reeled me in.

What amazed me was the truly diverse range of people who wandered past that Saturday, looking in, asking questions, sharing memories of fermented foods, wondering how to learn more.  Old London, international London, immigrant London, rich London, not-so-rich London, and really not-so-rich London! This represents what gives the city some of its character, but also reflects the feeling of fun and openness the market has worked hard to create, to be not just a business operation but something wonderful for “the community” that comes from “the community” in a genuine way.  The heart and hope of the Transition Movement is really a driving energy, and you can feel it at the market.

The Crystal Palace Food Market Manifesto:

  • Support organic farmers, local producers and everyone in our community. Provide a place to experience a sustainable, creative and fresh community market. Building community resilience.
  • Protect traditional farming and production methods developing food security.
  • Promote health and wellbeing and a strong local economy. Empower ourselves and everyone around us.
  • Cultivate an understanding of food provenance and seasonality.
  • Be a champion for sustainable food producers, proper food, low income or vulnerable groups within our community. Seed a connection to nature in our schools and children. Growing food and gardeners through our Patchwork Farm.
  • Living Transition Town principles: earth care, people care, fair share.

I’ve visited other impressive London markets, with incredible local food, but for me as a political person they can feel hollow– like old timers have been put out to pasture and the new “artisan” food is marketed as status symbol of sophisticated foodie consumption. There’s not that feeling here. Many of the vendors feel truly local (like, around the corner!).  Crystal Palace Food Market makes collection for local food banks central. They work hard and happily with local school children. They’re in the process of being able to accept Rose Vouchers in a healthy eating scheme for low-income families.  Patchwork Farm, a group of inspired people growing small amounts in community gardens and wherever they have a bit of soil to grow, bringing harvest to the market, is really a strong presence and brilliant community grow-local model.  They’ve been busy planting rhubarb in a CP Rhubarb Triangle.

The market also has incredible cheese stalls, baked goods, breads, beautiful organic vegetables, Bio-dynamic fruit (Evita apples being truly the MOST delicious apples I’ve ever eaten in my life), local preserves, unpasteurised dairy (I splurged that day on a jar of organic Hook and Son ghee which is such a treat!) and so much more.

I wholeheartedly recommend that if you find yourself anywhere in South London on a Saturday, you get yourself to Crystal Palace for some eating and shopping and marvelling at the wonderful community project that is the Food Market.  Congratulations to everyone for getting so far in these BBC nominations, and good luck in the days ahead.  Whatever the results, you all are truly winners.