‘To be honest I’ll buy anything’: Dundrum farmers’ market reopens to eager shoppers

Social distancing meant long queues at Airfield Estate but most were just happy to be out

Ana Axinte selling plants from her stall at the Airfield Farmers’ Market. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Ana Axinte selling plants from her stall at the Airfield Farmers’ Market. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Another day, another small step back towards normal. While outdoor markets were given the green light to restart trading as of last Monday, many waited until the weekend before they dusted down their stalls and started serving customers again.

And in the car park of the Airfield Estate in Dundrum on Saturday morning, the people and those doing the serving could scarcely have been more delighted by the turn of events.

People queued happily for fresh fish and herbs and vegetables pulled from the soil only hours previously. While shoppers seemed pleased with the produce on offer at the handful of stalls that braved perilously high winds to set up shop, they were even happier to be able to simply shop, almost without fear.

“We are delighted to be back outside,” Brian Lenihan said as he and his infant child stood waiting to make a purchase at the vegetable stall. “We got through the lockdown okay and it has been great to spend more time with the children.”

As he looked around his voice trailed off. “It is still a very peculiar time and even here today people are looking at each other just a little bit differently than they used to, everyone’s a little bit more wary and they’re keeping their distance more than they ever would have in the past.”

Shoppers at the farmers’ market at Airfield Estate, Dundrum, on Saturday morning. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Shoppers at the farmers’ market at Airfield Estate, Dundrum, on Saturday morning. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The man about to serve him fruit and vegetables was Simon Conron. “I’m just so happy to be back, it’s so good,” he said with a broad smile plastered across his face. “It has been going very well here so far today and it has been very easy to maintain social distance so I’m feeling pretty good about things. I think people are just so happy to be outside. We have all lived through a very strange time and hopefully we are coming to the end of it now.”

Marie Hanley stood nearby and nodded in agreement. “This market used to always be on a Friday and I could never make it so I’m delighted to be here and to be honest I’ll buy anything,” she said.

Jason Francis was wearing an Airfield jacket and carefully watching the shoppers shop. “I’m here to keep an eye on things but so far I haven’t had to say or do very much as everybody is really conscious of the social distancing thing. We’re taking small steps but isn’t it great to be taking those little steps? It is great to get a bit of normality back.”

Queues were longer than usual at the newly reopened open-air market. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Queues were longer than usual at the newly reopened open-air market. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
John Geraghty working on The Scarlet Olive stall as the farmers’ market reopened at Airfield Estate, Dundrum. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
John Geraghty working on The Scarlet Olive stall as the farmers’ market reopened at Airfield Estate, Dundrum. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

At a stall selling elderflower cordials and fresh herbs an exchange took place that would have been unimaginable even three months ago.

“I am smiling under the mask,” the stallholder said to customers she clearly knew but hadn’t seen in some time.

“I can see that in your eyes, your eyes look happy,” came the response.

The stallholder’s name was Ana Axinte. “Business has been constant this morning,” she said. “Everyone is really enthusiastic and really chatty, I am ecstatic to be back. It is so good to have a bit of normality back in the world. It’s a Saturday morning and I’m at a farmers’ market and that feels just great.”

Across the car park, a large queue had formed at the pop-up fish shop manned by owner and restaurateur Niall Sabongi, who was dispatching seafood and dispensing advice like a master.

Niall Sabongi from Sustainable Seafood Ireland talking to customers at his stall. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Niall Sabongi from Sustainable Seafood Ireland talking to customers at his stall. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The queue looked even longer than it might have thanks to the social distancing requirements but there was no need for tape or decals to remind people where to stand. Everyone knew without being told.

The fresh – and living, pinching – lobster and the John Dory were in huge demand, as was the organic Irish salmon. Most, if not all, the fish was caught off the coast of Ireland by small boats in the last 48 hours.

Until the pandemic hit, Sabongi’s Sustainable Seafood Ireland business primarily supplied high-end restaurants, including his own fish restaurants in Dublin. They have all closed for now so he has moved into the retail business in a big way. “It’s lovely to get out and meet people,” he said.

Almost overnight the company has developed a big online presence and done so under the shadow of coronavirus, in more ways than one.

“I was sick with Covid at the very beginning and from my bed I started to get the website ready,” Sabongi said. “I was hit pretty hard. I know it’s described as the flu but I found it to be very tough,” he recalled. “It’s great to be outside again.”

Rita Goode was equally delighted as she surveyed her depleted stall. It was not even midday and she had sold virtually all her supply of seasonable vegetables, including cauliflower cabbage, courgettes and mixed salad leaves. “It was very hard to judge how much we need to because I didn’t know if people would be afraid to come out but they are not afraid at all, they are absolutely thrilled to be here. It is just so nice to see this happening now. It has been too long.”