The Country Markets organisation has roots going back to 1919, when the Agricultural Organisation Society (now DEFRA) sponsored the setting up of co-operative markets to sell surplus produce. The first markets were Women's Institute (WI) markets and continued under this name until 2004, when it was decided set up the markets as a standalone concern.
The very first market was in Lewes East Sussex on 14th December 1919, and was a collaborative of several local WIs. Initially it was for selling the produce of members of the local branches of the Women's Institutes, but soon it expanded to others - small holders, cottagers, ex-service men. At its height, the market was selling produce from members of 23 different WIs. Anyone could become a shareholder, small holders, cottagers, ex-service men, etc, and it has remained the same, costing 5p to join.
There are currently over three hundred Country Markets throughout England, Wales and the Channel Islands. Country Markets baking and preserves can now also be found in a small but increasing number of local community shops and similar outlets.
Country Markets Ltd and all the Country Market Societies are co-operative social enterprises, registered as Industrial & Provident Societies with the Financial Services Authority. The organisation as a whole has an annual turnover of around £10 million.
In 1932 (National Federation of WI) NFWI decided to expand marketing activity and held a conference on February 4th at Caxton Hall, London. The prime objective of the conference was to investigate possible methods for marketing foodstuffs which are were being wasted when member's gardens are glutted with produce for which no means of marketing exists. It was attended by 183 representatives from 47 counties.
By the end of 1932 nine counties had set up registered County Marketing Societies. Individual markets were registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act.
In 1990 NFWI became a Charitable Company limited by Guarantee. As a result the Charity Commission and the NFWI legal advisers suggested a more 'arms length' relationship. By 1992 the annual turnover of country Markets was £10million but NFWI was a 'not for profit' organisation.
Finally in 1995 Markets separated from NFWI, adopting a new name 'WI Country Markets Ltd'. It moved into separate offices and became self financing. In 2004 the use of the WI initials was discontinued.
- See more at: The WI
Ampthill Market started in November 1973, and so celebrated its 40th birthday last year.
And here is another did you know..... some allotment societies will not allow their members to sell their excess produce and there is some interesting reading here: selling allotment produce and also here www.ruleworks.co.uk which gives clarification.