Have markets become overpriced and overhyped? What’s the point of going to a local market to buy organic carrots from another continent? While we love the social, outdoorsy aspect of markets, we’d like to see more consistent standards – and fewer foods exposed all day to the elements. Here we tell the difference between country and farmers’ markets, and visit a mix of the best.
THE GROWTH OF farmers’ markets is often seen as evidence of our new-found enthusiasm for local, seasonal and fresh food. Their emergence is to be welcomed, but it can be a struggle to actually locate farmers among the stalls selling everything from bread (far from home-baked) to falafels to Thai noodles. Even markets in France are not always what they seem: produce bought from wholesalers, cheeses and meats trucked the length and breadth of the country, bread baked in local ovens but from frozen dough fashioned in a factory far away.
A real market is surely about its locality. It should be about what is grown in the surrounding area, it should reflect the seasons, uphold traditions while encompassing the new in a locally relevant way. “Try telling that to a shopper in November tired of cabbage and turnips,” is the stock response. We want variety and we want it all the time. But do we really?
When the residents of Kildavin, Co Carlow were faced with the closure of their village shop and post office, they decided they wanted a market in their expanding village. They turned not to the idea of a farmers’ market, but to a tradition that has been around for more than 60 years – a country market.
Country markets, founded in 1947 as a co-operative, encourage not only farmers, but producers of everything from jam to cakes to those supplying bedding plants and crafts. The idea was and is to “enhance in a small way the family income”.
The first country market was founded in Fethard in Co Tipperary and is still going. Soon after this a country shop was set up on the site of what is now Bentley’s on St Stephen’s Green. Richard Corrigan’s fish pie is in good company, because back in the post-war years this was exactly the kind of food being served in the country cafe – home-style dishes made from seasonal produce brought up from the country.
Farming, of course, does not always lend itself to a morning standing behind a stall. During the summer and autumn months, the amount of raw produce increases and alongside it are added-value items made by locals. The best of these appear in a book called Country Market Favourites.
Where a farmers’ market requires each stall holder to operate individually, a country market works for the good of the whole. Insurance is provided for the entire market, which is costly for a small, casual operator. And the markets organise themselves, which is not the case with many of the new-style farmers’ markets which are run by a variety of commercial operators and councils. Sound old-fashioned? There are more than 50 country markets around the country. Another started last year in Baltinglass and this year another two are destined to open at Tullow in Co Carlow and Tyrrellspass in Co Westmeath.
Brigid Osborne, who runs the Askea market in Co Carlow, is convinced the community aspect of country markets is a key to their success. She argues that the co-operative nature of what they do is about drawing people together on a small scale. In my local market I can buy ethnic food from around the globe, tomatoes 12 months of the year and crafts with “Made in China” stickers on the back. But I can also enjoy sausages made less than a mile away, pies and quiches made not far away in the city centre, meat from Wexford, potatoes grown in north Dublin and flowers grown by a woman in nearby Wicklow. It is a farmers’ market with very few farmers in attendance and I am one of its biggest fans, but I crave more truly local food.
Country Market Favourites: 60 Years of Baking, Cooking, Household Hints and Folklore is available from local markets.For information on a country market in your area, contact Country Markets Ltd (01-7994534) or see countrymarkets.ie