‘Buying local’ and supporting small enterprise has become second nature to Irish consumers over the past few years.
According to a survey conducted by Bord Bia earlier in 2013, 68% of Irish people admitted buying local products to support the economy, even if they sometimes cost more. Many small food and drink producers began life at farmers’ markets, and the effect of such direct, weekly contact with the public has provided an important stepping stone to many a fledgling start-up.
Farmers’ markets allow producers to develop a loyal customer base in their community, gather valuable feedback and suggestions for new products, as well as a vital source of regular cashflow. Farmers’ markets have experienced substantial growth in recent years, from less than 100 in 2006 to well over double that number today. Recognising the importance of neighbourhood markets to the general economy as well as encouraging local enterprise, a voluntary Good Practice Standard for Farmers’ Markets was launched in 2009.
Producers signing up to the standard undertake to hold markets regularly and to stock up to 50% of local produce during the growing seasons. Its vision statement encapsulates the core ethos of this thriving sector: “That every town should have a thriving farmers’ market — offering a route to market for local produce and small food producers, attracting consumers and promoting sustainable and diverse food cultures at county and local level.”
Mahon Point Farmers’ Market, Cork
Times: Thursday 10am-2pm
“Our market is held every Thursday on the plaza of the shopping centre and is surrounded by a growing number of office buildings,” says organiser Rupert Hugh-Jones.
“Over 1,000 new jobs have been created in the area in the last year, and, as a consequence, we have noticed a massive increase in the number of people coming across to the market on their lunch break and get a real lunchtime rush.”
The market’s 52 stalls are almost all local, including bakers, fishermen, vegetable and fruit farmers, sushi, patisserie, pate, pasta, salads, and coffee.
Demand for space is strong, with more than 300 on the waiting list. “Applications trebled during the recession, with people looking for a way to increase their income. We have a lot of former solicitors and builders who are now stallholders.
“We also have people who have been cut down to a three-day week and have a couple of spare days a week to run a market stall.”
Honesty and integrity are paramount to a successful market, Hugh-Jones believes: “The reason our market has become so busy is that every stall is of the highest quality. Price is important too, but stallholders get a chance to explain directly to their customers why their product may cost more than the supermarket equivalent.
“Shoppers absolutely support local produce and much prefer buying from a local farmer.”
He adds: “People will always support as long as the markets strive for quality, consistency of stalls and top produce. I feel very optimistic about the future.”
Helga Hann with Tom O’ Rouke and Jack Healy at the Abbeyfeale Farmers’ Market. Pic: Domnick Walsh
Abbeyfeale Farmers’ Market, Co Limerick
Times: Friday 9am-1pm
It is a measure of the enthusiasm of stallholders in Abbeyfeale that when a producer of free range chickens recently retired, the people who bought his house and land immediately expressed their intention to continue supplying the market.
“We were constantly being asked how to grow vegetables, so we went to the parish and asked for the use of a disused garden in 2009,” explains Marian Harnett. “We then sought and received Agenda 21 funding to put up a poly tunnel and renovate an old glass house, and have been hosting classes there in vegetable growing since. We also set a wild flower meadow to increase biodiversity, dug out a pond, and last spring we installed a hive of bees in our wild flower meadow and held a bee-keeping course.”
Earlier this year, they also organised two fairs selling local crafts produced by people attending the adult education centre.
“Obviously quality and price are important, but the social aspect is also very important to our customers, many of whom would meet up with friends every Friday morning as they move around the stalls and can also stop to chat with the stallholders. People who make it their business to support their local farmers’ market would be more aware in general of shopping local and checking the origin of the goods they buy,” she adds.
“People are becoming more aware of the additives and preservatives in processed food. We have in Ireland a temperate climate and we should be working towards producing and getting paid for our own food.”
Siobhan La Touche
Dungarvan Farmers’ Market, Co Waterford
Times: Thursday 9:30-2pm
“Space is always at a premium at our market,” says Siobhan La Touche. “Our main products are fresh fish, honey, free range eggs, free range pork plus organic beef and fruit. New products coming on stream in recent times are gluten-free baking and organic lamb. Quality is of the utmost importance, customers want local good quality produce. Customers are really supportive of local Irish produce.”
Trading since 2005, the market has built up a strong customer base and continues to grow. “There is a lot of competition so it’s important to have really good quality fresh local produce. It’s the produce and the producers that make a market stand out from the rest, so we always strive for high standards and to make shopping at Dungarvan Farmers’ market an enjoyable and rewarding experience.”
Sneem Farmers’ Market, Kerry
Times: Tuesday 10am-1pm (June to September)
“The main products sold in Sneem are food related, and include fresh fish, homegrown vegetables, free range eggs, jams, chutneys and homemade pies,” says organiser Sophie Kool.
“In the early summer plants, both bedding and vegetable, are sold as well, and during high season there are some craft and bric-a-brac stalls as well.”
While the seasonal nature of the market does see a turnover in stallholders, the basic line-up has remained intact over a lengthy period: “It has been pretty much the same over the last three years. The demand is always variable, and we rely on a lot of the tourists from holiday homes, hotels and coaches.”
Quality and homegrown seasonal produce are the key reasons behind the market’s continued success: “Our customers would mainly be local people and holiday home owners who are more concerned about quality than the price of the products. I would be confident enough for the future, as long as quality is consistent. The biggest challenge ahead is regulations, and the competition from the supermarkets. We need to encourage the small producers, anyone who gets off his/her backside and tries to make a living should be encouraged.”
From top: Vintage cake baker Pauline Finucane with some sweet treats; Martin Kennedy hoping to net some custom; and fellow stallholders Joe Rigney, Maurice Hannon, John Horan, Rolf Jongbloed and Robert O’Mahony. Pictures: Domnick Walsh
Stallholders Joe Rigney, Maurice Hannon, John Horan, Rolf Jongbloed and Robert O’Mahony. Pic: Domnick Walsh
Listowel Farmers’ Market, Co Kerry
Times: Friday 9am-2pm
One of the longest running farmers’ markets in Ireland, Listowel has a mixture of local stallholders ranging from organic vegetables and free-range meat to baked breads, cakes and quiches.
“There has always been a wide range of produce and producers in Listowel,” says John Dalton. “There is also a growing interest in people intending to sell more craft-style work in the future, like sugan chairs. We have also seen an interest in mulled wines and coffee, helped a lot by the erection of a public canopy during market day with chairs and table which creates a social gathering,” he adds. Demand for space at Listowel is very strong. “Quality is always important to the customer, and shoppers tend to go to outlets where there are Irish products.” John Dalton remains confident for 2014: “We are confident the markets will have a future but we must not take it for granted. We will always have to give good value and top quality service and proactively promote themselves.”
“The biggest challenge is competing with the supermarket chains. Our aim is to provide a product that is not overly expensive to the customer and, in this regard, the farmers’ market has an advantage in that the customer is buying straight from the producer.”
Anna and Jim Benham: ‘The market is an attempt to counter the import culture of our times’. Pic: Kieran Clancy
Mountshannon Farmers’ Market, Clare
Times: Saturday 11am-3pm
Guided by a common initiative to support local producers, residents of this Clare area banded together to form The Mountshannon Market.
“This initiative came about in response to the economic issues that face us all, and also to provide a platform for the distribution of local seasonal produce and to support all and any local cottage industry,” says Jim Benham. “The market is an attempt to counter the import culture of our times.”
Mixing organic vegetables, sausages, pork pies, bacon, pasties and croissants, the market recently added cajons, hand-crafted box drums, made by two locals.
“Amongst new trends, we have seen a great interest in local, hand-crafted organic goods. Demand for stalls is steady, and we encourage and support new enterprises.”
Quality and price remain sensitive issues to the consumer: “As with all local goods, quality is assured by the friend and neighbour basis. Price compares well due to the low or zero transport costs,” he adds. Shoppers are more inclined to support local and Irish-made products in recent times, and through ongoing education their tastes are becoming more cosmopolitan. “I cannot speak for all markets, but Mountshannon is going well and is still only in its pioneering phase.”
Nenagh Farmers’ Market, Tipperary
Times: Friday 12.30pm-5pm + Saturday 10am-3pm
In existence for nine years, Nenagh started out as a monthly market and has added a Friday to its normal Saturday trading. “We moved to a new location about three years ago, closer to the town centre, and this has boosted trade by 50%,” says Michael Seymour. “We pride ourselves on our local products and producers, and most are from within a 50km radius.”
Comprising organic vegetables, organic beef and lamb, local cheeses, cows, goats and sheep, home bakes, breads, jams, chutneys, plants, knitwear, juices and handmade chocolates, the stalls have recently been bolstered by fish direct from Kilmore Quay and smoked meats from Lithuania. “We have held our own these past nine years, stalls will change but we keep going. Customers shop with us because of the quality of our products and being able to meet the producer, and, although I say so myself, we are a pleasant bunch of people.”
Demand for stalls is constant, and regulated to provide as wide a spread as possible. “The fact we are all local does matter but the quality of product and pleasant stallholder makes a definite difference. I would be confident about the future. As a society we need an alternative to big shopping centres and we need to preserve our main streets with a wide range of independent shops. Farmers’ markets are integral to that.”
Farmers’ Market, Kinsale, Co Cork
Times: Wednesday 10am-2pm
Famous as Ireland’s “gourmet capital” for many years, this picturesque town just 16km from Cork City is blessed with a thriving market operating every month except January.
With a tourist trade that runs practically throughout the year, its market reflects the wide range of local artisan producers within the immediate area, as well as further away in West Cork.
Things may have changed since 1837 when Kinsale had 87 fishing boats “constantly employed” bringing in the local seafood, but today’s offerings of fresh fish, cheeses, bread, vegetables and meats points to a healthy local economy where demand constantly outstrips supply.
“Much of our stalls are local artisan foods and locally grown produce,” says Miles Cattell.
“Demand for stalls does vary, but overall it is pretty constant throughout the year.”
The desire by the consumer to support local industry has become more apparent over the past five years, but price and quality remain important factors: “Customers seem to realise that freshness and quality are at a premium,” he says. “I think the farmers market will always be with us, but will rise and fall as the economy does.”
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