A farmer who used to devote up to three days a week running a stall at three local farmers’ markets tells me that he has given them all up. When I asked him why he replied: “They’ve had their day.”

His stall was everything a farmers’ market stall should be – he sold genuine first class, home produced (and home butchered) meat of unquestionable local provenance, proudly displaying his three generation local family farming history.

But apparently this was not enough. Each year, takings steadily declined to the point where it just wasn’t worth travelling and setting up when there was so much other pressing farm work to be done.

He had gradually expanded his range of produce as other stallholders quit. He hoped that by offering what they used to sell he could pick up their trade and, added to his own, it would increase his takings. But, sadly, even with no other stalls competing with his ever larger range of home grown produce, his total sales still continued to decline.

To my great shame I can’t claim to be a regular shopper at farmers’ markets. Whenever I do go I am invariably delighted with both the price and the quality of the produce on offer. But who on earth can afford to take a couple of hours out of a working morning, drive several miles to a market, park, and then spin round a group of stalls before heading home. Like most people, my shopping fits around my busy working and family life, and not the other way around.

The farmer did tell me that it seemed to be the raw ingredient stalls like his that seemed to be in the steepest decline. With people less and less interested (or with less time) to cook at home, stalls selling vegetables, fruit and meat have limited appeal, no matter what the quality or bargain price. Those stalls offering ready cooked foods such as pies or complex fruit smoothies made from exotic sounding ingredients were doing better.

He also said that those who did turn up regularly appeared to do so more for “a social” than to buy anything. At one farmers’ market in particular the stalls were arranged next to the village hall, which ran a café to coincide with the weekly market. “It got ridiculous,” the farmer said. “The ‘shoppers’ would all park their cars, greet each other and disappear into the café for the morning and forget we were even there.”