Exploring: Offham Farmers Market

Lou Simpson and Pichard Pelton of Spadework with some fresh carrots grown on site

Lou Simpson and Pichard Pelton of Spadework with some fresh carrots grown on site - Credit: Archant

Working with Kent Farmers’ Market Association, we put a different market in the spotlight each month

Once a month around 25 stalls pitch up at Spadework, the dynamic charity based in the west of Kent, creating a thriving Farmers’ Market full of seasonal food, drink and good company.

Based on a seven-acre site, Spadework is an extraordinary charity offering work experience and life skills to the trainees, adults with learning and other disabilities in a rural, commercial environment. Trainees work on site in the bustling Kitchen Café, farm shop, market garden and commercial plant greenhouses.

The charity opened its doors in 1984 and this year won the Taste of Kent Countryside Community Award, the first time it had been presented.

“Winning the Kent Countryside Community Award is a fantastic recognition of the work we and the trainees are doing here,” says Spadework’s general manager Kris Healey.

Even as six-year-old local boy, Kris has wanted to be part of the Spadework Community and after a successful career in sales, human resources and management he joined the charity in 2017.

An equally proud Farmers’ Market manager, Richard Pelton, who joined the charity some six years ago after a successful career as a fruit and veg wholesaler in London, adds: “Our trainees are involved in all aspects of life here at Spadework. They grow the plants that are sold in the Garden Centre, and produce the fruit and vegetables or sold in the farm shop or served in the café”.

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Spadework provides life skills, training and work experience for more than 90 people with learning and other disabilities and is based in the village of Offham, just west of West Malling.

Trainees attend Spadework during the week for perhaps one day or even close to full time. In 2017, the trainees notched up more than 71,000 hours of structured, managed time contributing to the development and growth of the charity, its gardens, café and shop and commercial plant nursery, and ultimately its Farmers’ Market.

“Our market runs from March to December on the second Saturday of the month with a special summer market running in June and a Christmas market in December,” says market manager Richard, who also oversees the farm shop and café. The Farmers’ Market first opened in September 2012.

Vegetables and herbs grown on site are sold on a stall at the Farmers’ Market, in the farmshop and in the café in dishes such as quiches, vegan breakfasts and cream of cauliflower soups.

“Local restaurants including The Swan in nearby West Malling buy our vegetables and we love using them on our menu in the café,” adds Richard. Any veg grown on site and not sold at the markets or shop are quickly turned into delicious meals and cakes and served in the café.

This June the charity is hosting a Vegan Festival organised by regular Farmers’ Market stallholder Jane Apps of The Fat Carrot, who says: “Attending Offham Farmers’ Market is always a fun, enjoyable time. We have lots of loyal customers and there’s always a great atmosphere. We never quite sure what’s going to be the best seller at any market, but in March our nut roasts sold out very quickly!”

Being able to support the charity as well is also a bonus, says Zoë Allcorn of stallholder Precious Porkers. “We always look forward to being part of the market. It’s well organised, friendly and it’s great to be able to support the work Spadework does at the same time,” says Zoë, who alongside husband Gary sells hot and cold sausages, burgers and meat from sourced from their small herd of pedigree Berkshire pigs.

David Gall, from Staplehurst-based St Apple Hurst coffee roasters agrees: “It’s great being able to support the charity through the market. And having a thriving garden centre on site brings in a lot of people, many of who visit both the market and garden centre.” David roasts his coffee beans in Staplehurst and includes one mix, known as Kentish Dragon, that consists of a subtle mix of Ethiopian and Vietnamese beans.

Other regulars at the market include Laura Barber from Sevenoaks Candles and Kathy Foster-Smith from Tonbridge who sells award-winning jams, marmalade and pickles through her Great Preservations company.

Each month the market welcomes an outside charity and stalls from Kent Wildlife Trust or the local hospice have raised the profile of their work through having a presence at the market.

Lou Simpson, who manages the cold frames in Spadework’s market garden, sets up a stall at the market to sell produce grown on site. Produce is mainly veg with some soft fruit, but always reflects the seasons.

For example, by March Brussels sprouts that have overgrown and burst out of their tight buds are described and sold as ‘Flower Sprouts’.

“These flower sprouts are sweeter than the sprouts we get in the winter months as the sun’s heat can get inside the bud. Cook them as you would a normal sprout, but for a shorter time” says Lou.

She also combines fresh herbs such as orange and lemon thyme, fennel and rosemary, wrapped in a cone, tied with a colourful bow and branded as them Gin Botanicals.

Find out more

Offham is a member of the Kent Farmers’ Market Association and you can visit the market on the second Saturday of each month, 10am-1pm. The Summer Fair in June is open until 4pm and the Christmas Market in December runs until 3pm.

Find your local market at www.kfma.org.uk

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