They have become such an integral part of rural life that it’s hard to believe that farmers’ markets began less than a decade ago (COUNTRY LIFE, September 14, 2006). The first one opened in Bath nine years ago. Today, there are 550 throughout the UK.

They share similar objectives – selling local produce to local people – but each market is as individual as its regional address. This is because under the National Farmers’ Retail & Market Association (FARMA) rules, which most markets trade by, all produce must be grown, reared and packaged within a 30- or 50-mile radius, depending on the remoteness of the location. It must also be sold by a member of the farmer’s family or workforce. No easy task.

Our judges have left no rare-breed sausage unturned in their quest to search for the Farmers’ Markets they believe to be the best.

Each of them has been assigned a region from which they have selected their favourite three. Now it is up to you. Voting finishes on October 12, 2006, giving us our six regional winners. Judges will then convene to find an overall champion.

The shortlisted farmers’ markets are:

Region: Scotland and the North

Judge: Clarissa Dickson-Wright

Television presenter and author renowned for her outspoken passion for food and preference for taste over calories

1. Edinburgh

Clarissa particularly recommends the venison from Fletchers of Auchtermuchty. Open Saturdays from 9am to 2pm in Castle Terrace.

2. Orton, Cumbria

‘Risen as a phoenix from the ashes of foot-and-mouth to sell the best Cumbrian produce’.

3. Leeds, Yorkshire

Local delicacies such as oven bread and pease pudding go side by side with food from the Asian communities.

Region: Midlands

Judge: Shaun Hill

Michelin-starred chef described by Delia as ‘one of Britain’s most gifted chefs’.

1. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Local lamb, water-buffalo burgers, ice creams and produce from Fowlers Cheeses, held on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

2. Ludlow, Shropshire

Markets take place in the town square on Castle Street every second Thursday of the month, promoting local food.

3. Moseley, Birmingham

City markets have proved remarkably sympathetic to the ideals of farmers’ markets and this is Birmingham’s finest.

East of England

Judge: Caroline Cranbrook

Lady Cranbrook campaigns tirelessly on behalf of farmers, small food producers and local abattoirs. She recently successfully stopped the building of a Tesco supermarket in her local town.

1. Woodbridge, Suffolk

A wonderful, very well established, well-organised market with a friendly atmosphere. Held on the second an dfourth Saturdays of the month at Woodbridge Community Centre.

2. Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

All produce has to come from a 30-mile radius, extending to 50-miles if it cannot be sourced locally. Held every fortnight on Fridays, local businessmen and office workers use it as a place to meet and eat.

3. Watton, Wayland, Norfolk

Begun as sa project to regenerate the high street and support local farmesr, market days have meant increased turnover for local shops – even the jewellers! Held on the first Saturday in the month.

Region: Wales

Judge: Mark Hix

Chef director for Caprice Holdings, overseeing Le Caprice, the Ivy and J. Sheekey

1. Abergavenny

Good, local, no-nonsense market held every fourth Thursday of the month in the Market Hall on Cross Street.

2. Chepstow

Mouth-watering Welsh Black Beef will draw you to the Chepstow Senior Citizens’ Centre on Corneilles Square on the second and fourth Saturday of the month.

3. Carmarthen

Really good on pork and ham and the family atmosphere is impressive – lots of traders have the same name.

Region: South-West

Judge: John Burton Race

This West Country chef received two Michelin stars at his restaurant in the Landmark Hotel in London and another, more recently, in his The New Angel restaurant on the quay in Dartmouth.

1. Swindon, Wiltshire

Held every Sunday at the unlikely surroundings of the Swindon Designer Outlet. Don’t confuse your cauliflowers with your Calvin Kleins.

2. Carruan, Cornwall

Delighted beachcombers can scoops up Primrose Herd sausages, bacon, fish and lobster every Wednesday from 5pm to 8pm.

3. Tavistock, Devon

A great shop window for what’s best and local in a pretty setting in front of the Town Hall. Held on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

Region South East

Judge: Tom Parker-Bowles

An author and food critic who is passionate about local food, in 2004 he took part in Sacla ‘Slow Journey’ travelling around Europe to help the Slow Food Movement promote small producers.

1. Winchester, Hampshire

The largest farmers’ market in the UK, with 100 stalls, held on the second and last Sundays of the month in Middle Brook Street.

2. Deddington, Oxfordshire

A heroic, post foot-and-mouth market which is held every fourth Saturday of the month.

3. Stoke Newington, London

A favourite with FARMA, it is held every Saturday at William Patten School on Church Street in north London – well worth a trip to the borough.

See the full article in Country Life, September 14, 2006.