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SUSTAINABILITY The conundrum of selling food

Outdoor Living
Tables full of local produce at Inver Spring Fair.
NOT A TROLLEY IN SIGHT Tables full of local produce at Inver Spring Fair.

Selling food should be simple

Growing your own
Chris Brown

Modern-day multinational supermarkets aren’t markets at all. Rather, they are warehouses where the public can buy just about everything they need. What supermarkets do is sell things, but they will not buy things from you; and this makes doing a deal in a supermarket difficult.
For one thing, they only take cash (in its various forms), which means you’ll need to use money to obtain anything, so if I went in with a few punnets of blackcurrants, some eggs or perhaps some lettuce cut that morning in salad bags, I’d most likely be shown the door. It would seem there is no system that allows for local produce to be bought by a supermarket store manager.
The buying of clothes, food, electrical goods, and anything else they can lay hands on, is done from an office that could be anywhere, and not necessarily in Ireland.
So where can I sell or otherwise trade the food that I’ve grown? It would be helpful if there was a wholesale market where a grower could take a couple of dozen lettuces, for example, and get paid for them, but no such place exists in Mayo.
This is a shame because such a place would be a good place for people to buy a head of lettuce – this would be a market and it could well be super. Along with the public, buyers from the hotels, hospital, old folks’ homes, canteens and so on, would be able to obtain fresh (and frozen) food that had been grown locally, and the money paid would go to the grower for them to spend locally. No need for profits to go to a central bank elsewhere, or indeed for a profit to be made at all, and the footprint that we make by burning fuel in the transport of food could be lessened in an instant.

What about farmers’ markets?

There are a few reasons why selling food at the farmers’ markets is difficult. Aside from the many hours you spend putting stalls up and down and operating them, time that could be spent growing, the costs are far too great.
That enemy of enterprise, insurance, is just one such cost – I mean, having to insure a market stall for cover to the tune of €6.4 million is outrageous, and is one of several obstacles that holds Ireland back in terms of trade. Buying carrots, onions or eggs from a market stall is not a dangerous task, and elsewhere in the world, where most of our food comes from, insurance companies aren’t involved, and they shouldn’t be here either.

Spring fairs
The concept of a spring, summer and autumn fair is a good one. Obviously it’s not a new a idea, these events have taken place for centuries, yet somehow they seem like a new thing, and they are definately something we should develop if local food production is to be encouraged.
I brought some jams and chutneys, eggs, winter kale, strawberries and other plants to Inver hall to sell at a spring fair recently held there (I wrote about it on these pages last week). I came away afterwards with some delicious breads and cakes, some very interesting seeds and plants and enough money for a takeaway meal on the way home. It was a great event.   
As far as I can see the success of such events hinges on the organisation of the financial arrangements. If there is a charge to rent a table for people to sell things from, in my opinion, a big mistake is being made.
Imagine that a charge of €20 is made for the table, then that money has to go on the price of the goods. This can easily make the goods too expensive for many people to buy. Keeping that cost down is critical.
Besides, if someone works in a supermarket selling goods, they get paid to do, so it doesn’t seem right that someone who has produced the goods and is working on a stall should have to pay too for the privilege to do so – after all, it’s the stall that’s the attraction.

NEXT TIME Free space

Chris Brown runs Brown’s Farm, a small farm in Louisburgh. He is an advocate of sustainable, natural farming methods and buying local.