crystal palace food market | karen jones
Words by Fiona Symington-Mitchell. Photos by Guy Milnes courtesy of Crystal Palace Food Market.
Crystal Palace Food Market is built on the power of community. One of its founders, Karen Jones talks to us about how this Transition Town initiative of an organic food market is promoting belonging, well-being and local, sustainable food in south-east London.
Crystal Palace Food Market is more than a local market. It’s as much about who we are as what we eat. Set up and run by volunteers, this weekly organic food and community market is based on the principles of supporting local producers, small sustainable farmers and local growing projects. Much of the market’s success is due to the vision, passion and energy of of its co-founders and managers, Karen Jones, who first proposed the idea of this local food market at a Transition Town AGM in 2012, and New Zealander, Laura Marchant-Short.
“I have always been interested in food and good health and so it struck me that the easiest way to get more local and sustainable food into the area would be to have a market. In Transition, people don’t take other’s ideas and lead on them. So if you have an idea it is up to you to build a team and make it happen. That’s the transition way of working," explains Karen.
What followed was a twelve-month period of consultation with the help of food writer, cook and gardener Rachel De Thample and Joe Duggan, co-chair of Crystal Palace Transition Town to define the principles of the market, promote inclusion and openness, and to engage the community. And it worked. “People were asking how could they get involved? We had a lot of the community on side before we even opened. So by the time it launchedeveryone knew about it.” People wanted to volunteer their skills and time - all important as the market receives no funding.
Globally there are more 2000 Transition Towns that all share the values of sustainability (and specifically moving away from an oil-based economy to a more sustainable way of living), self-reliance, and community empowerment. One of its guiding principles is the value placed on people working together locally to bring about meaningful change.
Today the market is a vibrant hub in the heart of Crystal Palace located in south-east London. All produce comes from organic and biodynamic farms, predominately from East Sussex and Kent, including meats from Jacob’s Ladder, fish from Veasey & Sons, and vegetables from Brockman’s, Wild Country Organics and Brambletye Biodynamic Fruit Farm.
Local producers and artisans from Crystal Palace, nearby Penge and Thornton Heath, sell hot food, cakes and preserves. Many are start-ups. Such support to local businesses is a part of the market’s broader commitment to building a “resilient local community”, so that in Karen’s words, “your own community gets richer and richer through the sharing of resources and knowledge”.
The market is also home to a number of community initiatives such as Patchwork Farm - a regular market stall made up of locally grown produce from nearby backyards, allotments and community gardens. Harvested every Friday, what is gathered is either swapped for something else, donated or sold to the stall. “It has become a hub for local growers. In the last year, we have had fifty-five different people bringing produce from fifty-five different places across Crystal Palace." There’s also an educational element that includes seasonal recipes from Rachel De Thample, food demonstrations, the ever popular Bugs Club - a nature club for children, and a series of films and talks is being planned.
The market is open every Saturday, 10.00 - 15.00 at Haynes Lane SE19 3AP.
What are the changes that you have seen to London as a food city?
There are more and more markets in London as people want to know where their food comes from and seek an alternative to supermarkets. Markets build community. At Crystal Palace Food Market, we see the same people every week; children come and see the different produce and learn about what’s in season. It’s fantastic.
I’d like to see …
A greater focus on easy-to-obtain information about where food comes from and how it is produced. The author Michael Pollan describes it best when he says “You are what you eat eats”. So for example if you eat beef then what that beef was fed is what makes that meat. There’s a very big difference between grass fed beef and beef fed grains, even down to the vitamin content and Omega 3/Omega 6 balance. All these things affect our health, so it’s a very important way of looking at food.
My London larder
You’ll find food from the market. All the meat’s from Jacob’s Ladder and the ultra fresh fish from Veasey’s. Olive oil, grains and vinegars, all come from The Grain Grocer. Everything is organic. He started at CPFM and is about to do a pop-up at Brixton Market. All my dressings and marinades come from Heaven Preserve Us. There’s my own salt - French Grey, that I mix with thirteen different spices and seaweeds. I like to cook with ghee and get it from Hook & Son, the market’s organic, raw milk supplier. And of course, loads of fresh organic veg.
Local food secret
Urban Orient: it’s a little Thai/ Vietnamese place on Westow Street that does a dim sum that’s so good and won’t break the bank.