A year in the life of Borough Market
While nobody at Borough Market is motivated purely by the plaudits, it’s always nice to have your efforts recognised, and in 2016 that recognition came in spades. The Market was presented with an award by the World Union of Wholesale Markets for its effectiveness in reducing food loss and food waste, Market Life magazine was named customer magazine of the year at the Independent Publisher Awards, and the Market Hall building was handed the Green Flag Community Award, a national scheme that recognises high quality green spaces. Some of traders were forced to construct new shelves and cabinets to accommodate their prizes: the Market’s stallholders dominated the Slow Food London Awards like Titanic at the Oscars; Gourmet Goat won the best street food category at the BBC Food & Farming Awards, and repeated the same trick at the Urban Food Awards, also picking up a gong for best surplus food initiative; while Padella was voted number one in the Observer Food Monthly’s poll to find the country’s best place for cheap eats.
Several fantastic new traders joined the Market: Charcutier arrived from Wales, bringing exceptional cured meats and sausages made on Illtud Llyr Dunsford and Liesel Taylor’s family farm; Oak & Smoke brought hot smoked salmon, mackerel and Arbroath smokies; Blackwoods Cheese Company, which makes unpasteurised cheeses at a dairy in Brockley, south-east London, added to Borough’s burgeoning roster of local producers, as did Local Honey Man, which arrived at the Market with some fantastic British honey and a drive to educate the public about the importance of bees. Eduardo Florez of The Colombian Coffee Company brought high quality single origin coffee beans from Colombia and a commitment to helping the small farmers the war-torn country of his birth, while more coffee—and a similarly laudable approach to social enterprise—arrived with Change Please, a business that provides homeless people with the skills, equipment and support required to become baristas.
Two long-established Borough Market stalwarts celebrated their 10th anniversaries. The Rake—the tiny speciality beer bar whose diminutive size is offset by its enormous reputation—marked the occasion with the fitting consumption of a few pints, while the team at truffle stall Tartufaia never quite got around to organising anything. On the website, the latter’s co-founder Mario Prati reflected on a decade-long journey that began—as so few truffle-related things do—with a visit to Burma.
Meet the boss
A new managing director, Darren Henaghan, arrived at the Market. Brought up on a farm, resident in south-east London and steeped in the culture of community-focused initiatives from his time in local government, he certainly has a background filled with promise for the future.
In the spring and summer, hundreds of visitors spent their Tuesday evenings listening to some impassioned and enlightening debates in the latest round of Borough Talks: a food-related discussion programme that started in 2015 and developed into something quite special in 2016. Panellists of the calibre of Bee Wilson, Olia Hercules, Rosie Boycott, Jay Rayner and Isaac McHale gathered in the atmospheric al fresco setting of Three Crown Square to discuss subjects ranging from the transformative potential of food, to the secrets of a successful food start-up. Adding even more stardust to the programme, two special In Conversation events saw the legendary chef Pierre Koffmann and seminal food writer Claudia Roden settling down on the Borough Market stage for in-depth interviews about life and work.
Throughout 2016, volunteers from the charity Plan Zheroes arrived at Borough Market every Saturday evening to collect surplus food from the growing list of Borough Market traders that have become engaged with this hugely worthwhile initiative. As the trading week comes to an end, surplus food is gathered up, weighed and recorded by the volunteers before being divided up for collection by local charities including The Dragon Cafe, Blackfriars Settlement and St Mungo’s, which use this high quality produce to nourish and sustain some of the most vulnerable members of our community. In December, new MD Darren spent the evening with the volunteers and was hugely impressed by the whole experience: you can read about it here.
Young at heart
2016 saw the Young Marketeers programme celebrate its fifth year at Borough Market. Run in collaboration with the School Food Matters charity, this initiative has grown to incorporate three annual projects: two involving primary school children learning to grow their own fruit and veg, then coming to the Market to sell it, and the other focused on older pupils making and marketing their own soup, using surplus vegetables. The special days when these kids come to the Market to sell their wares sees the average age of Borough’s traders plummet, while the levels of innocent, wide-eyed enthusiasm remain fairly consistent. Over the past five years, 14,244 children have played some part in one of these projects and produce sales have raised enough money to provide 11,724 meals to vulnerable families via the FareShare charity.
As part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability, Borough has teamed up with clean technology company bio-bean to ensure that the waste coffee grounds created by many of the Market’s cafes and coffee traders are being put to the best possible use—namely, the production of carbon neutral biofuels. A similarly innovative approach to waste reduction was evident in the work of Ooho, a company devoted to lessening our reliance upon plastic bottles. Ooho’s revolutionary approach, which was showcased at Borough Market in December, involves the production of edible, biodegradable balls of drinking water.
The Market’s relationship with the Slow Food movement continued to flourish. The list of accredited traders at the Market continued to grow—it now has the highest concentration of Slow Food traders anywhere in Europe. Representatives from Borough made the journey to the spectacular Terra Madre Salone de Gusto festival in Turin, where connections were made, lessons were learnt and good food was digested, all in the name of progress. And the year ended with Slow Food London presenting the Market with an apple tree—the delicious but rarely-seen grenadier variety—to mark Terra Madre Day and celebrate the ever closer ties between the two organisations.
And yes, a lot more people than ever before (including some rather vocal vegans) came to the Market’s annual Evening of Cheese event and turned it into a national media sensation for a day or two, complete with a quite staggering quantity of excruciating cheese puns. Following this unprecedented surge in interest, lessons will certainly be learned for next year’s event, but on the positive side, it shows that the appeal of good artisan food is clearly resonating ever more widely. Plus, as Oscar Wilde put it, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”.