Morpeth gardener falls foul of weights and measures law
Dec 6 2008 by Ben Guy, The Journal
A LANDOWNER who sells surplus vegetables from his garden to passers-by was amazed when his tiny roadside enterprise sparked an official letter from weights and measures inspectors.
Businessman James Cookson, who owns Meldon Park Estate, west of Morpeth in Northumberland, says he makes “a few pounds” a week by selling the vegetables from a stall at the end of the driveway of his family’s rural mansion.
He uses an honesty box which relies on passing drivers taking the vegetables they want and putting the required money in a piggy bank, which he empties each week.
Mr Cookson labels the various types of vegetables with how much he wants for them and relies on the honesty of buyers.
He says he only takes between £5 and £10 a week from the enterprise, which he set up to avoid veg such as parsnips, leeks, beetroot and cabbage grown in his walled garden from going to waste.
So he was amazed last weekend to receive a letter from Northumberland County Council informing him that a trading standards officer had visited the stall – and advising him that parsnips, spinach and leeks are required to be sold by weight.
The letter went on to inform him that “most fruit and vegetables are required to be sold by weight”, and was accompanied by four pages of “guidance” on weights and measures.
Yesterday Mr Cookson, who runs the Flying Fox business consultancy from Meldon Park, where he lives with his wife Emily and their three young daughters, said: “We sold five parsnips from the stall last week and last Sunday there was £1 in the honesty box.
“The letter is completely laughable and I have not got a clue about why the trading standards department has got involved, unless someone has reported us. They appear to be saying we should be selling parsnips by the kilo rather than just pricing them individually.
“I have got better things to kick up a fuss about, but it just tickles my sense of humour that someone has bothered to write an official letter about something like this.
“The vegetables are bought by people going to and from the local pub and we rely on an honesty box system. It is not a business, just a way of offering vegetables to others and preventing them going to waste.
“If customers don’t like it, they don’t have to buy.” A county council spokeswoman said a trading standards officer had come across Mr Cookson’s vegetable stall during a routine inspection of Meldon Park’s farm shop.
A standard advice letter was sent out as no one was around at the time of the visit.
She said the letter was aimed at helping Mr Cookson improve the way he labels the vegetables for sale and ensure he complied with the law.
“The advice that was given in the letter was to help explain how to sell fruit and vegetables in the correct manner to meet national guidelines. Even small stalls have the same responsibilities as large retailers, but we are not pursuing the stall owner for any wrongdoing; we are offering advice and guidance on how to meet the produce-selling requirements.”
It is not a business, just a way of offering vegetables to others and preventing them going to waste