Popular farmers markets return to Prague

An instant hit when they were launched a year ago, the Czech capital’s farmers markets are coming back after a winter break

Society|Local experience
Guest Writer | 15.03.2011
Fresh vegetables are among the biggest draws at the farmers markets

Vendors were overwhelmed when Prague’s first authentic farmers market was held at Kulaťák — as locals call the “round square” by the Dejvická metro station — on March 20 last year. There were very long lines as locally produced vegetables, free-range eggs, and home-baked goods flew off the stands, with many items completely sold out within a couple of hours. Prague 6 officials said around 15,000 people had turned out.

Soon afterwards, more open-air markets started springing up around the capital to meet this previously unsatisfied demand. “We asked ourselves, how is it possible that there are no farmers markets in the Czech Republic when they are so successful and so well attended in other countries?” says Jiří Sedláček, whose organization Farmářské tržiště opened their first market, at Kubánské náměstí in Prague 10, in May.

Farmářské tržiště (which translates as “Farmers Markets”) later took the concept to Prague 3’s náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad and the embankment by the Vltava river on Rašínovo nábřeží.

Family-owned farms around the Czech Republic welcomed the advent of such outdoor markets with open arms. “Some farmers were surprised, too — they never thought they’d see such a thing,” Sedláček told Czech Position. “They were afraid that they’d go to the wall and would have to quit farming altogether.”

Off to a fresh start

Continued interest in the producers’ wares was very much in evidence on Saturday morning, when the first of the markets to return after the winter break, Kubánské náměstí, was thronged as large crowds took advantage of the mild spring weather.

Some meat items are more expensive than those found in stores, but vendors claim the quality is much higher as they don’t use fillers

“I couldn’t wait for the market to come back; it’s wonderful,” says Prague 10 resident Helena Koutná, clutching some freshly purchased goat cheese from Slovakia. “They have things here that you can’t find anywhere else. The farmers chat with you and recognize you when you come back, which is lovely,” she added.

“It’s something I know from London, because I partly live there and I go to Borough Market very often,” says Koutná, who is an interpreter. “It’s really, really nice to see something like this in Prague.”

Pensioner Vladimír Sajner says the big draws for him are home-produced smoked meats and free-range eggs. “The prices are a bit higher [than in shops], but you have to bear that in mind when the goods are of a higher quality,” he says, laughing off the suggestion that some lines might be excessively long. “I think that’s something you can bear!”

On the issue of prices, Sedláček says contracts for stall holders include a pledge to keep price levels in line with those for goods of the same or similar quality in chain stores. “Foods shouldn’t be more expensive than at a hypermarket,” he says.

An alternative to the supermarket experience

The head of Farmářské tržiště says one reason the markets have been such a hit is that they provide an altogether more fulfilling experience than shopping at impersonal large stores. “They’re a natural, social community. You don’t just go there to buy stuff,” he says. “You have a coffee, talk to your friends, and have a beer or a sandwich, or whatever.”

The market at Jiřího z Poděbrad is small, allowing buyers to get to know sellers

As for the sellers, there is “no greater experience” for a farmer than dealing directly with consumers, Sedláček says. “Take somebody who produces cheese but uses too much salt. If customers point this out, he can react — immediately. That’s never going to happen in a big shop.”

After a successful 2010, vendor Soňa Procházková is back at Kubánské náměstí this year selling cider (of the nonalcoholic variety) that her cousin produces using apples from his own orchards and those of other locals in Lehnice, a small town in the Šumava area of South Bohemia.

“We sell 100 to 200 five-liter cartons a day, with the amount we sell depending on how big the crowds are and the time of year,” Procházková says.

At a neighboring stall, Ludmila Novotná is restocking baskets with fruit and vegetables as quickly as stocks are depleted by eager customers. (Sedláček says fresh vegetables are the main draw — what he calls the “magnet” — of every market).

“The markets work absolutely brilliantly,” says Novotná, whose farm is located near the Central Bohemian village of Třeboutice. “All sides are happy – what more can I say?”

“I haven’t met anybody who’d get annoyed at me if I counted their change wrong or something like that. People are pleasant and enthusiastic — there’s such a good atmosphere here,” she adds, before topping up a box of apples.

More to follow later

After Kubánské náměstí, some of the other farmers markets that made such an impact in 2010 are set to return this week, with the one on náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad reopening on Wednesday (March 16) and those at Dejvice’s Kulaťák and Rašínovo nábřeží welcoming shoppers again from this coming Saturday.

The Kubánské náměstí market can get crowded, especially near stalls with popular meat and produce items

Residents in some other parts of the Czech capital will soon also be able to purchase artisan breads and high-quality spicy sausages on their local square: markets at Náměstí 14. října in the Smíchov district and Barrandov open at the turn of the month, while one is set for the Karlín neighborhood from either April or May. In the summer, stalls should go up for the first time on Tylovo náměstí, by the busy I.P.Pavlova metro stop. Other markets will also be held on the outskirts of the city.

Meanwhile, in the middle of April, Farmářské tržiště are planning to open at a second riverside location: A farmers market on the embankment at Na Františku in the Old Town will be targeted specifically at professionals in the food industry, a group that did not show great interest when they first appeared last year.

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