Market warriors brave the elements to bring shoppers the best local food

Interview 24-1-19 SM Farm

Tracey O’Boyle of Tom and Ollie, an artisan business specialising in locally produced Mediterranean foods such as pesto, hummus and roasted tomatoes as well as cheeses, including Young Buck from Mike Thomson in Newtownards, was wrapped up from head to toe at the popular Causeway Market in Coleraine last week.

And she wasn’t alone. Other traders were suitably clad against the bitingly cold wind sweeping through the market. The stiff breeze collapsed a couple of pagodas used by traders. “It was freezing,” Tracey says.

“But we’re all used to the weather at this time of year. I am certainly accustomed to icy winds, rain and even snow at markets across Northern Ireland. We just pile on the layers and do whatever can be done to keep head, hands and feet warm,” she adds.

Broughshane-based Tom and Ollie, which has won awards for its handmade foods, is a regular feature at outdoor markets here. The company, also a stalwart at the three-day food market at St George’s in Belfast, has a presence at virtually every one here, including Ballymena, Ballycastle, Com-ber and Dungannon.

“While our business has now expanded into providing retail packs for both stores and wholesale, we are as committed as ever to local markets,” Tracey continues. “I love meeting people and telling them about how we make the products. Markets are a great way to increase awareness of our business and products,” she adds.

Marketing operators here are now gearing up for the year ahead following a short New Year break. Shopping at local farmers’ markets is a great way to experience and enjoy premium produce and support our smaller processors and farmers.

Local farmer Mervyn Kennedy, who produces award-winning dry-cured bacon, ham, gammon and pork sausages from pigs on his farm near Omagh, is another regular feature at markets here. “Outdoor markets can be a real challenge, particularly during the winter months,” Mervyn says. “As a farmer, I am well-used to working in icy weather.

“It doesn’t worry me because I enjoy talking to shoppers and the camaraderie with other traders. Markets are ideal for people to reconnect with their food and those producing it. Buying from a market, furthermore, takes people into their town or city. Markets can help regenerate town and city centres,” he adds.

Kennedy Bacon is another fine example of a farm-based business which has expanded into delis and other retailers from its success in food markets. Its products are now on sale in many SuperValu stores.

Beef and pig farmer Damian Tumilty of Castlescreen Farm, near Newcastle, has developed significant sales of his grass-fed Dexter meats at the Inns, Carryduff and Comber. “The markets have enabled me to showcase the outstanding flavours of Dexter beef in particular,” he says.

Success selling locally produced artisan foods at many markets, especially Comber, the Inns, Coleraine and Derry has led Belfast entrepreneur Johnny McDow-ell to develop Indie Fude, a popular deli in Comber specialising in Northern Ireland produce.

“Our business was built on local markets,” he says. “While we have a successful deli we continue to support markets throughout the year because they are the best way to raise awareness about the shop and fabulous local products we sell.” He’s also developed branded products such as unique meat pies and a popular mail order business.

Tina Breteche, of Downpatrick-based Mange Tout, is a regular participant at monthly markets such as Comber, Downpatrick and Portaferry. “We are now selling in independent retailers in County Down as a result of our drive to raise the profile of our handmade cakes, breads and pies,” she says. “Markets, in addition, are great for sampling products and getting feedback from customers.”

Famed Krazi Baker Mark Douglas, from Dromore, has built a successful business baking traditional Irish breads such as potato cakes, soda, treacle farls and potato apple at markets such as Carrickfergus, Comber and Newtownards. He has a pitch at the weekly Saturday market in Newtownards.

“I launched my business with the intention to use markets to revive interest in traditional breads,” he explains. “It enables me to show customers how the breads are baked and to provide these ‘straight off the griddle.’ And it’s proved extremely popular. We now have a host of regular customers,” he adds.

Farmers’ markets are trending everywhere at the moment because of the move towards healthier eating, living and spending.

Shoppers, according to Declan O’Donogue of Erne Larder in Enniskillen, are keen on fresher food and want to get to know the people producing it and how they do so. He launched his Irish Bacon Ketchup and Irish Bacon Sauce at local markets in Dungannon and Fermanagh. He’s also now selling in delis here and in the Republic.

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