THE popular coastal West Cork village of Baltimore has long held a reputation as a great place to dine.
From Michelin stars to sumptuous seafood platters overlooking the picturesque harbour, it might come as a surprise to many that access to fresh produce can be a challenge.
There’s a small village shop, and the nearest supermarket is 14km away in Skibbereen - but fresh produce for Baltimore and the island parish will soon be easier to come by.
A group of Baltimore-based volunteers has established a new Community Market that launched at the weekend - Sunday, May 8 - and will operate year round. ‘From the village to the village’ is this new market’s mission statement.
I sat down with three of the founding members, Marie Loviny, a grower and gardener originally from France; Jean Perry, the founder of Glebe Gardens; and Siobhan Casey whose family is behind Casey’s Hotel and Restaurant and West Cork Brewing Company, to learn more about the market and why the time is right for it.
Marie said: “The idea came from completing a sustainability programme with SECAD two years ago. We were talking about sustainability and asking what does that term mean?
“For us, it’s about food security. We had some meetings, talked about food sustainability and how we can improve that in Baltimore.
“There’s so many people growing amazing produce around Baltimore and the islands, and we thought it would be great to have a place in the village that people can come to once a week.”
Jean says that for small growers, there isn’t an outlet for selling their produce.
“Doing the sustainability course prompted us to be very specific that the produce either has to be made in Baltimore and the islands, or made by a person that lives here. When we started to look around to see what was available it was really surprising, the variety, and we thought it could encourage other people if we had a platform to sell their produce.”
Although Siobhan didn’t take part in the course, she was part of the wider growing interest from within the community to increase the self-sufficiency of food for the benefit of those for whom Baltimore is their home.
She said: “For us (as Casey’s), supporting local and having a platform for local producers to sell was always really important. While Marie and Jean were involved in the sustainability course, others - myself included - were having similar thoughts around supporting local and buying local.”
There’s a deeper importance here too, of connecting a community on land with those of nearby islands, notoriously food insecure places. An exception might be Cape Clear, known for producing incredible fruits and vegetables, as well as a uniquely located distillery, goat dairy and meat producers and more besides. Creating a network enables this geographical pocket to achieve a self-sustaining way of life, becoming a template for others to follow.
Jean said: “Since I closed the (Glebe Gardens) café, I should be retired, but I can’t stop growing so I was looking for another way to have an outlet.
“Marie is starting her journey - she has polytunnels for growing vegetables, working in other gardens and at Brown Envelope Seeds.
“We thought if there was an outlet in the village, it would encourage others to consider growing something too.
“And we’re surrounded by farmland – we should be able to feed ourselves, really.”
The market is all about produce from the village available to the village. Tourism is part of the community for Baltimore and the islands during the summer months, but part of building sustainable communities, especially those that double up as popular tourist destinations, is that it works for locals first and foremost ensuring a vibrant place to live all year round.
Jean added: “The market will be a year-round affair. It’s an indoor market in the Community Hall which makes it easier for people to commit because there isn’t the extra expense of awnings - just rock up and have a stall.”
Community is at the heart of this venture, and as such there are two ways in which the market delivers on that commitment.
Marie said: “We will have a Community Stall for people who grow a few things in their garden and maybe have a glut, that they can come and sell it at this stall.”
The stall will be a shared space and funded by a small donation by those availing of it.
Word is already spreading, too, as Siobhan recalls a conversation with a local woman who was interested in selling gluts from her garden, swiftly mentioning a family member and a neighbour who would be grateful of the space and opportunity.
A tea and coffee stall will be manned by volunteers with proceeds from sales going to a different community initiative each week, such as Tidy Towns, RNLI, the local playgroup and school.
The first stallholders include fresh vegetables from Marie Loviny and Jean Perry, who will also have flowers for sale; handmade baking, jam and chutneys from Cape Clear Island and Casey’s Hotel; duck and hen eggs and handmade organic chocolates from Cape Clear Island; and handmade cocktail mixers from Foxglove Cocktails.
Craft products include honey, beeswax, soap and candles from Lough Hyne and Cape Clear Island; handmade wool clothes, scarfs, hats and painted silk scarfs by Sharon Rose Design; handmade cushions and baby dolls clothes by Valerie Brown; small paintings and postcards by Anne Marie McInerney; and home-spun wool skeins from Cape Clear Island.
The number and array of stall- holders will ebb and flow during the year, with more food producers in summer and more craft and arts towards Christmas as the growing season comes to an end.
During autumn, there are plans afoot for a seed and plant swap too – all ideas that help to develop the self-sufficiency of Baltimore and the islands is encouraged.
Expect live music from local musicians every week, as well as space for people to sit and catch up with friends and meet other members of the community.
Siobhan said: “In a post-Covid world, when there has been so little opportunity for meeting other people, it will be a lovely way for people to come and meet at their leisure on a Sunday and talk.
“This market is all about our local community and to encourage everyone to grow whatever they can.
“Everybody is welcome - it’s about togetherness.”
Baltimore Community Market takes place every Sunday from 11am – 3pm at Baltimore Community Hall. Keep up to date via Instagram @baltimorecommunitymarket.
For anyone interested in operating a stall, contact email@example.com.