Farmers Market Case Study: Midleton Farmers Market
Midleton Market is one of the most successful markets in the country, providing ‘local food for local people’ every Saturday morning, ‘on high days or holidays, come rain, hail or snow.’ After initial discussions back in 1999 about the location with the local community Midleton Farmers Market was set up with the full support of the Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Council. From an initial twelve stalls the market has blossomed and gone from strength to strength. The market is now oversubscribed.
It is above all a shopping market, distinguishing itself clearly from the new type of ‘lifestyle’ markets where the emphasis is on food to go. It is a place where producers can earn a significant proportion of their income in under 3-4 hours without driving long distances, and set themselves up to develop their businesses beyond the realm of farmers’ markets. Midleton Farmers’ Market was established with the express intention of providing an outlet for farmers and small food producers to sell local seasonal produce to the consumers who were desperately seeking this kind of food. It is different from some of the established markets in that it does not sell clothes, cd's, tools, bric-a-brac... but simply provides local food to local people , the producers themselves or an appropriate representative must man the stalls. Midleton market enables farmers and food producers to sell their goods locally which benefits both them and the local community.
• John Potter Cogan, a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, ECAD – realised there was potential for a local food initiative in East Cork. He set up a committee, approaching people like Darina Allen, Kate O’Donovan, and Ted Murphy on account of their experience with food, food safety and the council respectively. Darina Allen had visited the farmers’ market in San Francisco and brought the idea of a local market home.
• They had to establish market trading rights i.e. when and where the market could take place, and successfully applied to the council for a licence. They decided on a Saturday morning at a small car park near the local Supervalu.
• They went from ‘pillar to post’ to get people to sign up, recruiting producers with good experience of markets, such as Frank Hederman, and complete novices such as local vegetable farmers, Siobhan and David Barry.
“The first morning there were 12 of us. It lashed! My husband thought I was mad. It took a long time to get going – we were often standing there not selling a lot.” Kate O’Donovan
• Some stallholders had better equipment than others but eventually most invested in umbrellas, weights, signage etc.
• At the beginning some stalls changed hands as traders dropped off, or moved on to other markets.
• It was two years before the market was properly established, and since then has been very stable.
• In the 3rd and 4th years when the market was ‘tipping along’, other markets started opening in places like Douglas, Youghal and Fermoy. Traders felt the pinch, but customers soon returned. Since then Midleton has gone from strength to strength, while several ‘competing’ markets have struggled.
• The market is a huge draw to the town: Prior to the market, the Farmgate café did not get going in the morning until 11am/12 noon now it is busy from 8.30 or 9 am on market days.
• The committee had to establish what were the market trading rights in the town – where and when they could trade. “If we made a mistake it was not consulting the townspeople. It was a very new concept at the time and there was a fear about it. No one went to talk to the other traders.” Kate O’Donovan
• The committee did consider having a street market, like Galway, but with hindsight the decision to have the market in its own designated (car park) space was a good one. There was no traffic, it was constrained to a given area which condensed the number of traders, and gave the market cohesion.
• There have always been car parking spaces around the market. Although they are sometimes insufficient, the situation has eased with the new spaces created recently.
A new plaza has also been created by the council and the traders can use it on a Saturday. It is now more obvious to the traffic at the main roundabout and shoppers at Hurley’s Supervalu. It has running water, electricity and toilet facilities.
“The new space has been a benefit.We’re now more settled. Before it was like a mouth with missing teeth. The gaps have been filled with new stalls selling fresh fish, ice-cream, mushrooms, and Frank Krawczyk cured meats” Frank Hederman.
• In beginning there were no real rules/regulations.
“We were dying to have stalls and would say ‘come on down’ to anyone who showed an interest.” Kate O’Donovan
• Then quite basic rules were created: the produce had to be fresh and local, producers had to man the stalls themselves, they had to keep stalls tidy, and stay within the space allocated etc.
• Some of the rules had to be relaxed – it was acceptable for example that producers attend only one or two times a month, sending someone else to work their stall on days they could not attend, if necessary. Not all produce is strictly local. It was necessary to introduce a degree of flexibility.
• It has become important that traders only sell what they specify in their initial application – which is approved by the committee. The move to the new location for the market was an opportunity to make sure all traders, old and new, had completed an application form, and that there was no threat of duplication of products or disputes between traders.
• No more food-to-go stalls have been allowed, although some traders would like to see more.
UNIQUE SELLING POINTS
• It works because of model which evolved – now described as a ‘self-regulating municipal market.’ “At Midleton you do not have a landlord renting space. So there’s no incentive to make it bigger, duplicate stalls or allow craft or poor quality food.” Frank Hederman
• It’s a shopping market rather than a ‘lifestyle market’, where people tend to window shop.
• Meeting the producer is a key attraction. By and large the producer/trader is present. Otherwise ‘you could go to deli or supermarket for the same thing’.
• More farmers are involved.
• The variety and quality of produce is extremely good.
• Darina Allen is a key attraction, but it wouldn’t have worked without the mix of high quality traders present.
• The market has enjoyed great publicity.
• Its location in East Cork – heartland of Irish food culture thanks to Myrtle Allen and Ballymaloe, Darina Allen and the cookery school – is also a huge benefit.
• There is no dissension amongst traders. ‘We all realise we’re on to a very good thing. Happy traders make for a happy market. The customer picks up on it and enjoys it. All of life comes down. It becomes part of the Saturday ritual. The buzz is palpable” Frank Hederman.
• The live music creates a great atmosphere. Each trader (currently 22 in total) donates money (€5-10) to the musicians, who also busk, and therefore there is a good incentive for them to turn up. Musicians tend to approach individual traders who they know and are referred back to Ted Murphy, the market controller.
• Word of mouth has been the best promotional tool. The core market is local people who like to support indigenous business.
• Temporary signage is erected by stallholders on the roadside. Signage also goes up outside the market in the town.
• The market attracts a large number of journalists thanks to its connection with Ballymaloe. Darina Allen’s editorial in Irish Examiner is helpful.
• The local newspaper is also very supportive.
• Brochures and aprons were produced to promote Midelton at events such as the ploughing championships and Midleton Food Fair.
• Little or no advertising is taken.
• Recyclable, branded bags are to be produced for traders to buy at cost.
“We have lots of creative ideas but it’s hard finding the people to implement them.” Kate O’Donovan
• Committee consists of Chairperson, Assistant Chair, Secretary (John Potter Cogan), Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer, and Market Controller
• John Potter Cogan is a ‘referee’. He is the only neutral member, in that he does not trade at the market. He therefore has a keen sense of perspective. He organises meetings, types up minutes, deals with all correspondence (mostly new applicants) etc.
• Darina Allen is currently the Chair, making sure all committee members have equal say at meetings, and all is fair and equitable. Frank Hederman, the Assistant Chair, stands in when she is absent.
• Kate O’Donovan is the Treasurer, who keeps the books, looks after the bank account, and pays bills. Siobhan Barry the Assistant Treasurer collects the money from the traders.
• Ted Murphy is the Market Controller – marking the pitches, making sure no-one extends their space, keeping out uninvited traders such as face-painters, crafts people etc. He also puts signage out in the town.
• The committee is voluntary, members are not paid expenses.
• Some committee members have Chamber of Commerce, LEADER and council connections: therefore they know what support and funding is available, and can iron out any disputes.
• Committee as a whole have to agree on who trades at the market.
• Committee meets 4 times a year and again at the AGM – unless something crops up e.g. relocation.
• Typical issues concern new stall applications, complaints from traders and customers, major promotional events etc.
• If traders do not turn up to the AGM, then they have no right to complain about decisions made.
Key Tips from Midleton Case Study
• Consult your local Environmental Health Officer with regard to the relevant food safety requirements
• Get as much advice as you can in the earlier stages of developing your business
• Signage is crucial and should also be used as a marketing tool
• Opening hours should be regular and consistent
• Quality and freshness are key to the success of your business
• You should consider setting up a website to increase awareness of your farm shop
• Your marketing and promotional material could centre around the seasonality of fruits or vegetables