THE Gibside Farmers’ Market has been a huge National Trust success story. What started out as a relatively modest affair in 2008 aimed at supporting local food and drink producers, has turned into a twice-monthly event attracting hundreds of shoppers and scores of top class stallholders from across the North East.
It’s helped push the local food message, introduced people to the delights of Gibside’s leafy surroundings and picturesque landscape garden on the edge of Tyneside, and, perhaps most importantly of all, offered a much needed lifeline to small-scale producers who might otherwise have been struggling to survive in the current economic climate.
Indeed, for one hyper-local producer, Gibside is the sole reason her business has flourished ... and is continuing to grow.
Janet McKie is the brains behind High Strothers’ rare-breed pork sausages. Three years ago the business didn’t exist. But now former Royal Mail employee Janet has a thriving venture selling a huge range of sausages, home-cured bacon and high-quality pork cuts from her own prize-winning stock of nearly 200 Welsh, Berkshire, Middle White and Saddleback pigs.
The 49-year-old lives just three miles from Gibside at High Strothers Farm at High Spen. She took early retirement from Royal Mail after suffering a foot injury, and with the support of her business partner Bob Carnaffen decided to launch into a new career as a food producer and fill what she saw as a void for top-quality pork products.
She is the first to credit Gibside’s mission to help people reconnect with their food and its producers, with giving her still fledgling concern the boost it needed.
“I owe my success to Gibside,” Janet says simply. “High Strothers has taken off thanks to Gibside and its monthly farmers’ markets. I am only a small business but the farmers’ market and the support of everyone who runs it, has allowed me to develop at a gentle and safe pace.
“I have been able to slowly grow the range of pork products and build my customer base within a safe and supportive environment.
“The farmers’ markets are really well run and popular; they attract a lot of high quality producers and shoppers who have come to realise that local produce is actually very good value for money. “
Now she and Gibside are irrevocably linked, each feeding off each other in more ways than one.
Her eye-catching mobile shop with its drop-down front sells out almost as soon as she opens for business on market days.
Customers travel from across the area to stock up on her now famous sausages specially made for her by butcher RO Adamson of High Spen, which include exotic flavours like leek, garlic, black pudding, ginger, mulled wine and even chilli and dark chocolate.
Fans include South Shields-born X Factor winner Joe McElderry, while Janet’s prized pigs have appeared in an episode of the hit North East-based BBC crime drama, Inspector George Gently!
When Gibside began organising regular hog roasts at its popular Friday night Sun Down at Gibside Beer Garden and Pub, it was Janet they turned to.
She provides the pig and will be doing the same for the festive hog roast taking place tonight. It sounds like a great excuse to settle back and relax with a pint of Wylam Brewery real ale or a glass of hot mulled wine around the fire while the children explore the play area.
Best get there early though. The Hallowe’en hog roast was a sell-out. Gibside property manager Mick Wilkes maintains the only way to eat a hog roast sandwich “is with stuffing and apple sauce in the great outdoors with a pint of real ale in the other hand. At Gibside we provide the outdoors and the beer ... Janet delivers the delicious hog roast. It’s a perfect partnership.”
He adds: “High Strothers Farm has been a stalwart of Gibside Farmers’ Market, involved from the very start and still one of our most popular traders. Janet and the National Trust share a passion for local food and we’re working to share that passion – and the pork – with our visitors.” Ed Jagger, Gibside’s events officer, puts Janet’s success at the farmers’ market down to her “commitment to outstanding local food.”
Janet’s pork cuts, bacon and sausages have since the beginning of December also become available between farmers’ markets from the Gibside Larder too, which stocks an array of tempting local and artisan foods, including breads, cheeses, real ales and vegetables, alongside a range of unusual gifts, cards and books.