NEXT month, Midleton Farmers’ Market celebrates its 20th anniversary — and it receives an early present tomorrow when it reopens as part of the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
Darina Allen, one of the founder members of the market in June, 2000, is delighted. “It’s marvellous news,” says the Ballymaloe legend.
“The food producers are greatly relieved, including myself.
“A lot of local producers went through hardship during the coronavirus and the lockdown. The market was closed at short notice, even though we were trading with restrictions in place, keeping two metres apart, providing hand sanitisers for our customers. Being outdoors in a big open space; we felt very safe.
“So it was a bit of a shock to us, and to our regular customers, when we were told to shut up shop, especially for those living in the country who rely on readily available fresh, nutritious food within a short distance.”
The producing didn’t stop during the pandemic.
“The cows don’t stop milking, or the hens don’t stop laying,” says Darina. “The cheese doesn’t stop ripening. The vegetables don’t stop growing.
“For a lot of local food producers; the farmers’ market is the only outlet to sell their produce. I think the future of farmers markets needs to be looked at and protected.
“Now, more than ever, people need to be able to source organic foods grown through ethical business practice. It is real food. Food is our medicine and we have to keep our immune systems strong.”
The DIY community provide a boost for the local community.
“The economic, social and environmental benefits are plain to be seen,” says Darina.
“And farmers’ markets forge links with the local community, supporting a way of life that is in a danger of being lost.
“For the vast majority of food producers, the farmers market is their livelihood.”
They are also a place to connect with others.
“I love Saturday mornings at the Midleton market,” says Barry Tyner, a familiar figure handing out delicious samples of his home-made paté, and who can recommend a good sample of vino to wash it down.
“I miss the sociability and the buzz of the market, swapping banter with the other stall-holders and with my customers.
“There is a fabulous atmosphere in the market, everybody is in good form and enjoying the whole experience. For a lot of people, the market is a meeting place, to catch up, have a coffee and a chat. It is part of the community. For older people, it is sometimes the highlight of their week.
“The market is about enjoying both the social experience and the shopping experience. I’m certainly delighted to be heading back to Midleton tomorrow, meeting old and new friends.”
The closure of farmers’ markets had other effects. Some little piggies didn’t get to market.
“Our pigs should have been slaughtered at their ideal weight ready for market weeks ago,” says Noreen Conroy of Woodside Farm, Ballincurrig. She sells home-cured bacon, pork belly and loin, as well as flavoursome sausages, salami and chorizo at her stall at farmers’ markets in Midleton, Douglas and Mahon.
“The pigs are still here on the farm getting fatter and still being fed. So they are costing us extra money in feed bills. It all accumulates.
“We feel the financial effect of not trading in the markets or supplying our customers in the hospitality business.”
“So the news the markets are coming back was really good to hear. They should never have been closed in the first place considering we were adhering to Government guidelines.
The farmers’ markets provide safe shopping for people outdoors. There is no close contact, no shopping trolleys. It is a healthy situation.
“It will be great to get back trading in Midleton and Mahon again. A lot of our customers were in touch asking how we were getting on. The markets are second nature for us; a way of life.”
Noreen adds: “I think people have begun to realise our natural organic food comes from animals and plants, and they realise food producers are real people trying to sustain a way of life that benefits everybody.”
Farmer Dan Ahern says: “We rely heavily on the farmers’ markets to sell our eggs and raw milk. With the markets closed, we had a huge surplus. Our neighbour, who is a great baker, made use of the excess produce. She kept us supplied with fresh baking every day otherwise we’d have had to dump a lot of it.”
So he was living of the fat of the land?
“We enjoyed the lovely fresh home-made baking delivered every day! It was very welcome.”
Dan and his family welcome the opportunity to provide the community with organic baking ingredients when the farmers market re-opens.
“The local markets provided a new niche for us when our herd of Jersey cows increased,” says Dan.
“Some small shops took our raw milk and eggs during the pandemic, but we still had a fair surplus. Now that the county council got the go-ahead to allow us back to trade at Midleton Farmers market, it will be a new lease of life for us, financially and socially.”
Some of Dan and Nora’s produce has a longer lease of life.
“Ah yes, the home-reared turkeys will be well ready for market come December!”
Musician Paul Casey is tuning up his guitar ready to return to Midleton Farmers’ Market, adding a party atmosphere to the happy reunion of traders and customers.
“It is a celebration for young and old,” says Paul, a musician for 30 years.
“Midleton Farmers market is a vital connection for the community. It is a fantastic link bringing people together.
“My mate Mick and I love seeing people sitting down on the benches enjoying a cup of coffee in the sunshine, and sometimes the rain!
“They soak in the buzzing atmosphere and the music. Some like joining in singing the songs! Everybody is in a good mood. And people travel from all over to Midleton to visit the market; it is a nice spin and a nice day out for them.”
Paul adds: “Saturday mornings haven’t been the same in Midleton since the market closed.
“People who haven’t met up for a while can now meet up again.
“Midleton Farmers market is all inclusive. Opening up again will be a celebration.”
Mick, of Churchtown South, has made good use of his time in lockdown.
“I’ve spent a bit of time learning new songs,” he says.