Fresh food aficionados were eagerly waiting for Rye’s country market to re-open last month after its winter break since Christmas. As usual, Shirley Gibson was there at the door, handing out shopping cards, one to each person. All the regular stall holders were posted in their usual places round the Community Centre in Conduit Street. In order counter-clockwise round the room, the stalls displayed: savouries and eggs, conserves, fresh vegetables, unusual plants, cut flowers, home-made cakes, crafts and knitted goods, ending up back by the door with John and Margaret Holbrook at the receipt of custom. It all seems delightfully old-fashioned, but then that is precisely why country markets flourish in villages and towns up and down the country.
Country market manager, Jenny Stapley’s speciality is marmalade, jams, lemon curd and chutneys. She has supported the market for some thirty years, and her mother before her, in a family tradition. It was known previously as the WI market, run as now by members of the local Women’s Institute. I bought a chicken curry made by John Holbrook and some fresh goose eggs from Philip Ashton-Cobb’s farm at Moons Green near Tenterden. He will be selling rare breed pig-joints in the autumn, I was informed.
Numbers attending have declined in recent years, with increased competition from other retail suppliers including farmers’ markets, and on-line trading. Local advertising on websites, printed flyers and in Fixtures help promote interest, but these cost money. Grants have been successfully obtained recently from the Little Cheyne Windfarm Fund and the Rye Fund and further fund-raising events are planned. John Holbrook summarised the challenges in terms of raising awareness amongst residents and visitors to Rye, improving the attraction of refreshments, and hosting charity coffee-mornings and special events.
It is evident that the demand for fresh local produce has a solid customer core and the country market continues to offer a valued neighbourly meeting place where family news and local gossip can be quietly exchanged but, as always with local facilities, use it or lose it is the motto.
Photo by Kenneth Bird