Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

13.36 30 May 2020


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Darina Allen says she believes it was a mistake for officials to tell farmers' markets to close during the coronavirus crisis.

Farmers' markets were among the businesses allowed to reopen earlier this month as part of the first phase of coronavirus restrictions being eased.

Ms Allen is the owner and founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Co Cork, as well as a founding member of Midleton Farmers’ Market.

She told Down To Business that stallholders were "absolutely stunned" when it became clear markets would have to close in March.

Darina Allen says farmers' markets shouldn't have been told to close during coronavirus crisis

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She said: "The shops were given guidelines on how to operate... no such support was offered to the farmers' markets.

"In hindsight or whatever other kind of sight, it really would seem that this was actually a mistake.

"I hugely applaud the Government and everybody for the steps they've taken, but this one thing... it was local people's opportunity to get local food, and for the local farmers and food producers to sell directly their fresh food which was in season."

Darina noted that operating a stall at markets is the sole source of income for many people.

She explained: "Overnight they were left with the hens still laying, the vegetables still growing, the pigs still fattening... and absolutely nowhere to sell it, until they responded and thought 'what on earth else can we do?'"

However, she suggested that members of the public found 'all kinds of treasures' in their local areas when the 2km restrictions were in place.

She observed: "A lot of people tasted this kind of food for the first time... and I can tell you know they're hooked.

"From the stallholders point-of-view as well, desperation can be an amazing thing - suddenly you have to think completely outside the box.

"It's amazing the initiatives people came up with it... there were pop-up farm shops at farm gates... an honesty box at a gate so people could pay for their cheeses.

"NeighbourFood, the online market, really saved a lot of the local producers."

She said that such measures didn't make up for the business lost through selling to the likes of local restaurants, but did mean "people could continue to exist and have a little bit of cashflow".

With a number of markets across the country having reopened last weekend, Darina said work is now underway to come up with measures to ensure they can continue to operate if restrictions are put in place again.

She said: "We need to have a protocol in place so farmers' markets would not be closed.

"You can't imagine the welcome the farmers' market got back last weekend... the customers were thrilled, and the stall-holders were hugely relieved."

She suggested more people have now realised the benefits of buying locally, noting that people can make a huge difference by deciding how to spend their "food euro".

Main image: File photo of Darina Allen. Photo: James Horan/RollingNews.ie

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