The roadside stall that was once home to pigeon carriers
“My parents started this stall over 40 years ago,” says Juliette Burley, her bright blue eyes assessing me like an inquisitive bird. “I first came here when I was 13 years old, with a stall and a trailer - and now I'm 45!”
The stall in question – which was once a pigeon carrier - is along the A39 Truro to Falmouth road, in a layby near Perranarworthal. Anyone who travels along this road will know it – the tubs of freshly picked flowers outside, racks of fresh vegetables and fruit, and inside is a cornucopia of delights ranging from free range eggs and freshly picked mushrooms, to home made cakes and Vicky's home made bread. Everyone is greeted by Juliette – or one of her two daughters – with a cheery “hello, bird,” a twinkly smile, and there's always time for a chat.
“In an average week I must have produce from 10-15 local farmers,” says Juliette. “It's all local sourced from the other wholesalers. Then there's Vicky's bread from Helston, Gwavas supply the milk, butter and cream; cheese is from the Lynher Dairies in Stithians and the flowers are from Cox's in St Keverne.”
We go and look at the produce section. “The honey's from Bob at Peninsular Apiaries, in Moresk Road, Truro – he's been supplying it for 20 or 30 years but he's threatening to retire now,” she says, miffed that a friend could do such a thing. Then there's marmalades and jams from Kernewek marmalades, and home made cakes from The Cake Tin at Tregony. “She came to me as she runs a chicken farm and needed something to do with the surplus eggs,” says Juliette. Behind the counter are trays and trays of eggs. “I sell every egg you can imagine – Jumbo, Large, Duck, Goose, Chicken. They're all free range and all from our farm.”
As to her selection of produce - “I supply what I'm asked for. And mainly what's in season – I try to stay with the seasons. The suppliers come to me, but then it's got to be the quality and the price.”
Popularity of food depends on the season. “I started with cauliflowers and people come to me for them because they want the bigger ones – the ones you can't get in the supermarkets. Anything that we can get local that the supermarkets don't stock I do well on, like Sevilles in January and English apples.” And winter is usually her busiest time. “Winter's always busy because people cook more,” she explains.
Seeing Juliette at work, it's clear that she wouldn't swap it for anything else. “I've always done it, except for 4 years off when I was a postie,” she says. “I love it so there are no pros and cons! I would one day love to put up a shed here but that's not going to happen,” she continues resolutely. “We'd never get planning permission. It'd be nice to make it easier. But that's life in general, isn't it?”
She nips off to serve a customer and returns, where we left off. “I get fed up when it's quiet and the day drags, about this time of year,” she says thoughtfully. “We don't ever have a day off. But I come and go as I want.”
Juliette and her partner farm her parent's farm at Perranwell. “We've got 500 chicken, 70 or 80 pigs, a few bullocks and lambs for the freezer here – and of course I breed my Kune Kune pet pigs! I've been breeding them for 6 years – they make great pets but they also make fantastic sausages – people come for miles for the sausages.” I blanch at the idea of eating my pets and Juliette nods. “I have Dilly and Daisy and there's no way I could eat those two – they were my first two and my breeding pair.”
Breeding pigs is clearly in the family as Juliette's older daughter Michelle is breeding Mangalitza pigs. “They're pigs but with sheep's wool,” Juliette explains. The woolly coat helps them to survive the harsh winters in their native Austria and Hungary, and in the summer it helps protect them from sunburn.“We're the nearest farmers from Cheshire to have them. They have marble-effect meat which is very tasty, and they're nearly ready to eat now.” In amongst the photographs of pigs (her own reared pork and lamb is kept in a chest freezer to the right of the counter) are pictures of beautiful floral designs at various weddings. “Michelle's a florist by trade,” Juliette says proudly.
Despite the never ending work, Juliette clearly thrives on the contact with her customers. “I have hundreds of conversations in one day,” she says happily. “I see people coming in with their kids and now the kids have got kids, they've been to university and now they're back home again! Generations of 'em!” She grins and those bright blue eyes twinkle again. “I get holidaymakers that come every year for donkeys of years and they book so they can take stuff home with them!”
Perhaps surprisingly, Juliette has noticed that a lot of her customers are teenagers. “It's the students now (from University College Falmouth) that are starting to eat properly,” she explains. “It's been slowly building up over the last couple of years I suppose, because vegetables are cheap food.” She laughs. “They come in for mange touts and what not and there's none of them at the minute so I'm trying to educate them with the seasons!” Luckily for her, she's found that the recession hasn't had much impact. “Sales of the big bags of potatoes have gone up because people realise that £3.50's a cheap meal.”
Many of Juliette's customers come from miles away. “I've got a girl from Exeter and she diverts from wherever she's sent in Cornwall to get the bread!” Juliette laughs. “Then there's the onions, shallots and garlic come from Roscoff – my little French man comes over four times a year and people come from miles around to buy them.”
Given that Juliette has run this stall successfully so long, I am interested in what advice she has to anyone wanting to set up a similar business. “It is hard work – there's never a break,” she says thoughtfully. “But I was taught, don't be afraid to make waste. You can't sell waste so if it looks off, eat it!” She grins and insists on wrapping up my bunch of carrots for me. “That'll be a pound, please, bird!”
Shopping at Juliette's stall is more than just buying quality food at good prices. It's about having a chat and a smile, lifting the mood of the day. Which is why Juliette's stall, like her, has become such an integral part of so many of our lives.
Juliette's Stall Opening hours
Open Tues – Thurs 9.30 – 4
Friday 8.30 – 4
Saturdays 8.30 – 2
Cornwall Today June 2010