Images by B. Alter
The place is Brixton Market where a group of entrepreneurs, artists and idealists are creating an enclave of new shops and cafes in a corner of an old Caribbean market. The shop is called Brixton Cornercopia, a take on cornucopia and the local corner store.
Selling home-made chutneys and preserves and jams, the store is as much about selling food as it is about connecting people to food. Signs advertise foraging walks, a community cookbook and healthy recipes, illustrating the owner's attitude to the store's function.
Anne Fairbrother is the owner of the shop, along with her partner who is the pastry chef. Their interests extend far beyond the sale of good foods. She is interested in the social development aspect--what makes local-ness, how do you make connections to the community, and how do you create a collaborative community.
She wants to build on the food connection--Brixton Market has a cornucopia (there's that word again) of fabulous fruits and vegetables and a history of being oriented toward the Caribbean residents. Fairbrother wants to reinforce the essential tradition of the market - which is the provision of fresh foods to the local population. She says that this is an element "which has disappeared from many markets, displaced by supermarkets, and replaced by low value non-food imported products unrelated to local production, skills and components."
Fairbrother wants to connect people back to their foods. There are signs around the shop for joining community wild food walking groups where one can learn about new plants. There are printed recipes to take home, sheets to contribute your own and lots of interesting things to sign up to do and books and tea towels to purchase. It's a start at making the store a "a food community centre."
The store itself has a nice old-fashioned feel to it. The fittings are made out of old wood pallets, including the shelves and counter tops. Most everything was found in the area and adapted to use in the store.
The chutneys, preserves, jams and relishes are home-made by one of the owners who is a trained pastry chef. Making use of the local produce and bounty of the market is part of the special aspect of the food and reflected in their offerings: preserved lemons, oranges in honey and brandy, figgy mostardo, pickled fennel in orange and saffron, pineapple relish, roast pepper and tomato ketchup and honey mustard. We had plantain and tarmarind chutney which had a nice bite to it. They also sell cakes and pies made by local home-cooks, bakers and growers who so far have had no outlet for selling.
The future of the place and the whole experiment? Hard to know. As part of the Brixton Village project, all of the shops were offered 3 months free rent. Some have already left, Anne Fairbrother is in for the long haul. But it is a struggle to make one's shop known and to make money. With her background and pioneer spirit, she is bound to make a success of it.