If it’s the very best in local produce that you’re after there are few places to rival farmers’ markets which attract hundreds of people up and down the country every week.
The Covid-19 outbreak meant visits to the regular weekly, fortnightly or monthly events had to be cancelled due to social distancing measures.
But as the country takes its first steps on the route-map out of lockdown, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing outdoor markets can open from June 29, farmers’ markets up and down the country are now making plans to reopen so they can once again showcase local food, drink and craftwork for us to take home and enjoy.
While many farmers and food producers have successfully diversified during the coronavirus crisis by offering different ways of getting your hands on their items, many enterprises are simply too small and really miss the opportunity of selling their food and drink at markets.
Perth Farmers’ Market had explored the possibility of holding a market in July, but as their events are scheduled for the first Saturday of the month the date was going to come too soon.
They are now planning to reopen on August 1, and organisers have been busy behind the scenes making preparations, but there is a long way to go.
And it is one that may involve the long-established market having to move from the city centre.
Market coordinator Adeline Watson explained: “I’m hopeful that we will get a market in August. It’s how much we can put on the market and what the guidelines are.
“July would have been a bit too tight. We can separate the stalls more but then how do you keep the customers socially distanced in an area not enclosed? We can’t have one door in and one door out.”
I’m hopeful that we will get a market in August. It’s how much we can put on the market and what the guidelines are.
Adeline Watson, market coordinator, Perth Farmers Market
The current city centre venue may have to change to ensure that social distancing is easier to adhere to.
“Where it is at the moment is a very busy thoroughfare and it’s not just people coming to the market. They are walking through to go to shops and coffee shops, the banks – it’s a congested area, so we may need to move market site,” revealed Adeline.
“We want to give everyone a fair chance. It’s all about helping each other out, and it would be a shame to move, but it’s all about keeping things safe and getting the sales for the stallholders. We are not competing, but it might be that it has to be out of the city centre. It’s a tricky balance.
“So that is one of the things I am considering at the moment is where it will be, and how we can do the two-metre social distancing. It’s all going to be quite tricky.”
It is certainly easier for shops and stores to implement one-way systems and keep their customers safe. That, however, is a huge challenge for outdoor markets.
And customers are also going to see a huge raft of changes, with try before you buy set to become a thing of the past – certainly for the time being anyway.
“I have been into a garden centre where there are marks on the floor one door in one out, and you follow marks. You can’t do that at a market,” continued Adeline.
“The days of tasting things are going to be over and you can’t have people touching things, sampling, touching bottles.
“All of that will be stopped, and we will just try to manage it best we can. It’s a whole different world where we have never been before.
“We might not get it absolutely right first time but we just have to see what we can do to keep it safe. The customers, too, also have to do their bit – stand back from other people as they are doing at the moment.”
Despite the uncertainty of the situation and the fact that there have been no markets since early this year, stallholders are keen to return to the fold.
“A lot of our traders are ready to come back. I made contact with a number last month to gauge feedback and have a conversation.
“The majority are all really keen, although there will be some that aren’t returning. Time off has made them look at their business model and it’s understandable that would, happen during the time.
“A number go to markets everywhere, not just Perth, so it’s imperative for them to get back and rebuild their businesses.
“I would be hopeful that we would have 40 stallholders. I have a huge waiting list and that’s why I started planning early. Then if people don’t want to come back I can fill those spots.
“Hopefully we will get the customers back too, but some won’t want to cause they will be nervous and worried.
“I think it’s important to get the first one right, get the promotion and the PR right. There will be things to be done to get signage done, layout needs to be right. That all has to be thought through. It just can’t happen overnight. It will only be August if everything goes to plan.”
Stuart Richard, Angus Farmers’ Markets manager, is hopeful that the Montrose market could open for its regular July date due to being outdoors, but the Forfar event is more complicated as its venue is indoors.
He said: “The Forfar market is a huge event having 1500 minimum customers during the duration at the Strathmore Hall in the mart area. Montrose on the High Street is much smaller with only 15 or 16 exhibitors but it’s outdoors.
“We might get the go-ahead to do Montrose as it will be much easier to space out and maintain social distancing, and easier to police. We don’t need to worry about toilets being closed which is a problem for Forfar.
“Also we can’t really build the big metal structures with the canopy roofs while social distancing as the guys who build them would only be half a metre apart putting the roof on. We have a contingency plan that for Montrose we could use collapsible tables and pop up ones that people can do themselves, while recommending that others bring their own and have a reduced fee to attend to compensate for not getting a stand.”
We might get the go-ahead to do Montrose as it will be much easier to space out and maintain social distancing, and easier to police. We don’t need to worry about toilets being closed, which is a problem for Forfar.
Stuart Richard, Angus market manager
While outdoors offers challenges, these are nothing compared with Forfar where the market space is completely indoors.
“Forfar will be a lot more complicated,” Stuart continued. “We have a huge waiting list and that is with everything in place at the moment. We will need to space the stalls out because of social distancing and that could mean a drop in 20% which would mean a lot of disappointed people.
“We would love to start Forfar back again in August once we see how easy it is to manage Montrose in July.
“Another big factor is once we get go ahead it doesn’t mean everyone will want to come back to farmers’ markets. Some 35 to 40% of our attendees are in the elderly bracket. They could be shielding or will make a conscious decision not to attend a public event.
“But they won’t lose their space because no one could have predicted this was going to happen.
“The last market in March, I spent days before buying hand sanitiser and soap just so we had sanitising stations for people attending.
“They will have this facility as soon as they come to the market. We can’t force them but at least they will have that available.
“Another issue is the toilets for stall holders. At Montrose, we have exclusive use of the disabled toilet for the stall holders, but can I legally give them a key to use the toilet or do they have to grin and bear it which really isn’t a goer.
“It’s going to be a different set up for sure but if we can at least get it up and running. We have customers who only come to buy their monthly supplies so it’s a big loss to them as well. I am hoping if we are in there in some capacity it will be pleasing to some people.
“If we can safely run it and it conforms to all the guidelines and exhibitors are happy then that will be a real positive.”
Dundee’s market organisers were hopeful of restarting their event next month, but the First Minister’s announcement that big shopping centres couldn’t reopen stopped their plans for now.
A spokesperson said: “Phase 2 means we can open. However, the Overgate cannot so we need to know a bit more before we can make any progress and be sure of either July or August for a reopening.”
In Fife, farmers’ markets organisers said they were waiting for Scottish Government guidance before the committee would meet and decide how they would proceed with a view to reopening next month if possible.