The gardeners among us must be looking at their packets of seeds and wondering what to do with them. There’s little point sowing most vegetables and flowers when air temperatures are arctic and the soil is almost too cold too handle. Washing the polytunnel nearly left me with frostbite, and with more holes appearing every year in the aging plastic cover, even on a sunny day the temperature is barely warm enough to risk starting the 2013 veg crop. Still, it’s only April 1st, never a day to get too depressed, and there’s still time to sow seeds and have fresh food ready for June. Let’s be optimistic.
Farmers have no such leeway. Livelihoods depend on bountiful yields, effective soil management to maintain long-term productivity, efficient harvesting and rapid transportation of produce to the point of sale. To you and me the cold weather is a nuisance, to them it is a potential crisis – as we have seen this week with the distressing scenes of livestock trapped in snowdrifts in the North, lambs frozen to death before they have a chance to live. Farming and food production are the most important of all jobs; the allure of advertising and celebrity all-too-easily distract us from what really matters. We grumble at the smallest rise in food prices, but happily spend huge sums supporting something as trivial as football or hurling, and watch as sport and pop stars join the captains of industry in raking in millions while those who provide the real essentials of civilization, farmers, nurses, teachers, security personnel, stoically plod on with the only work that really matters, feeding, clothing, housing, protecting and educating. What cockeyed values we have created.
So it is nice this week to take a chance to blow the trumpet of Thurles Farmers’ Market. Week after week, in frost, rain or shine these good folk are there to serve us. Vegetables and potatoes, fruit, jams, tarts, buns and cakes, freshly pressed wheatgrass, fruit and vegetable juices, meats, flowers and plants, timber products – and plenty more. Some are organic producers, some not, but all are local. From 9.30 to 12.30 every Saturday in the Thurles Greyhound Stadium car park, they offer for our dining tables a succulent array of freshly produced local goods.
There are many benefits from shopping at the Farmers’ Market. You are buying local food, fresh from the field, with those thousands of food-miles almost entirely eliminated from the equation. Consequent savings on fuel, plus reduction in carbon emissions, make this the sustainable way to produce and sell food. You are supporting friends, giving business to local producers, keeping skilled jobs in your region, buying the goods your neighbour helped to produce. You get to meet the producer, with the chance to question and give feedback on what you want and what you buy. You are cutting out the middleman, reducing costs and ensuring a direct personal connection between your family and the source of what they consume.
This is stress-free shopping, with plenty of free parking, courtesy of the Greyhound Stadium, where you pay a fair price and the producer takes a fair profit. Don’t fall into the lazy assumption that everything is more expensive; factor in the low waste, no parking costs and low food-miles, and there are plenty of bargains to be had. Supermarkets may offer alluring deals and can discount prices more flexibly, but there are many hidden costs and we are right to question the real value of their offers. Remember that producing quality, healthy food is not cheap.
The Farmers’ Market has a wonderful Christmas Craft Fair and often holds coffee mornings supporting local charities like Suir Haven, St Vincent de Paul and Clonmel Hospital. The market has been running for eight years now, with a wonderfully loyal and satisfied core clientele. Working closely with local groups like Cabragh Wetlands, craft producers, Thurles Fairtrade group, the Allotments and G-I-Y, the Farmers’ Market has embedded itself in the fabric of Thurles’ life. And the great thing is that 20 miles away in Nenagh, Cahir and other towns, their Farmers’ markets are also flourishing, serving their people and providing a vital outlet for their producers. This is a glimpse of a sustainable world economy based on localism and cooperation, not competition and conflict.
The Market provides a platform where new local producers can showcase their products as they start up their businesses, testing the market and with instant customer feedback. Most of us go occasionally; let’s all make a resolution to visit our local Farmers’ Market more regularly.