Alex Handford of Hampshire Farmers’ Markets

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You could be forgiven for thinking that wellies and warm coats are the necessary attire for a day on the market, and while that may often be true, today it clearly isn’t.

Alex Handford, Manager of Farmers’ Markets for Hampshire, is looking a picture of elegance in a vibrant pink dress, “I’ve been in meetings all day”, she explains. Alex sits on the Great Taste Awards panel, overseeing new applications and guiding new producers through the process of joining Hampshire Farmers’ Markets (HFM), and meetings constitute only part of her busy and varied position.

“On a typical HFM day I would be on site at 5:00-6:00am, one of our two logistics teams would arrive at 6.30am to set up for the traders to arrive and they will trade until 2:00pm, or longer if part of festival. There are 114 HFM in Hampshire each year some, like Petersfield and Romsey, are on the same day so we have to ensure that our logistics teams are well briefed for the set-up. We can encounter problems when the Council pop in a bollard or two or some new parking bays that were once HFM pitches and forget to tell us! But generally it all
works out”.

How did Alex come to Manage Hampshire Farmers’ Markets?
“I am Hampshire born and bred, but once I graduated in Agriculture I went to Somerset for thirteen years where I was involved with dairy farming. I then qualified as an HR specialist before having a baby. At that point I needed a part-time job so did maternity cover in the office for HFM. The lady I covered for never came back and I’ve been Manager of Hampshire Farmers’ Markets for eleven years now.”
Originally run as part of Hampshire County Council HFM became independent in 2002 and now operates from offices on the Rotherfield Park Estate home of Sir James Scott who is an enormous supporter of HFM.

How do local producers apply to HFM?
“It’s a simple application process but there are strict criteria applicants must adhere to. We visit new members at their offices and places of production to ensure they comply with our regulations. Producers obviously have to come from within Hampshire or 20 miles of the county border. We have our primary producers – meat, eggs, dairy, and fish. Then our secondary producers who provide, for example, pies, pâtés, biscuits, preserves, cakes and confectionery. All of these products must contain at least 20% of locally sourced ingredients, so butter, eggs and flour must also be local to ensure that we are supporting our Hampshire farmers and producers.With this in mind, we hold our Producers Awards, this year at Lainston House Hotel on October 5th, voted for by our customers, the public, in recognition of the wonderful products our producers bring to our markets.

I think the most rewarding part of my job is guiding new local producers through the application and then seeing their individual businesses grow and flourish. Often producers have a fabulous product and, having chosen not to go down the supermarket route, feel a bit lost as to what to do next. At HFM we offer mentoring support for new start-up businesses, marketing support through local and national press, the markets themselves, and not forgetting our social media. Marketing is so important and what we provide is essentially an inexpensive, but very large, shop front. There are many events throughout the year such as British Food Week in September which we are linked to.

We can also give advice on various grants which are available for small local producers which they may not have been aware of. My absolute passion is to keep the farming community alive by providing an affordable opportunity to sell their fantastic products to an increasingly concerned and discerning public who want to buy foods where they know the provenance and are assured of quality.The Hampshire Farmers’ Markets are community events with both producers and public coming together. They are lovely social occasions.”

Hampshire Farmers’ Markets also promotes local food producers through their schools workshops.
“We do wonderful things like butter making with the children which they love and get to know how food gets from field to fork, it’s so important”.

So what products does Alex particularly like?
“Oh so many! Too hard to choose! But I don’t like to be without oils from the Cold Pressed Oil Company, or smoked trout from the New Forest Smokery. FA Secrett’s Veg are passionate about what they do and sell the most amazing salad and vegetables. Plus wines from the Hambledon and Raynes vineyards”. Sounds like a wonderful meal!

Alex’s support and hard work has been recognized many times, not least by Hampshire Life magazine through whom she was presented with the ‘Food Hero Award’ in November 2016.Thanks to her dedication and that of The Hampshire Farmers’ Market team she sees the future of local producers is assured going from ‘strength to strength’.

For a calendar of Hampshire Farmers Markets Visit:
www.hampshirefarmersmarkets.co.uk.

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