For farmers who have recently signed up to the Organic Farming Scheme, one of the most sensible ways to make the most of your in conversion to organic period is to sell direct to the consumer at farmers' markets.
For organic and conventional farmers alike, this option is becoming more popular. I spoke to Ray Dunne of Quarrymount meats at a new market in Dublin recently. He sells the meat from 50 of his 150 conventional Continental beef animals through farmers' markets.
The crucial difference between this and selling to the factory is the proportion of the profits you keep for yourself: all of them. While there is a day spent selling, and time spent on other related tasks, those who, like Dunne, sell direct, find it worthwhile.
Some of the bigger farmers' markets in the cities now have footfall of thousands, with the busiest having upwards of 10,000 on a given day.
Rental costs for stall space simply pale into insignificance when compared to shop rents.
Consumers are more willing to shop around than previously, and farmers' markets are benefiting from this extra footfall.
Prices can be kept reasonable for the consumer and at the same time profitable for the farmer, due to the lack of a middleman.
Some of this may seem like old news, but the recession was supposed to be the end of farmers' markets, and it has not turned out to be the case at all.
There are some basic tasks farmers need to go through to start direct selling. The good news is that once you have your product in place, you can be up and running within 3 months, if you put your mind to it.
Taking the middle level of difficulty, and looking at the farmer who wants to direct sell his own (frozen) meat, here are some of the steps needed, in sequence, starting from the point where you have product in place.
Do some background research into what consumers want, and where you might sell. Visit markets, talk to traders and try to find gaps in the market. Bord Bia have a good document called “Guide to Direct Selling” on their website: page 8-37 and appendix one are the core elements of this document.
It is definitely worth doing a food hygiene course. It is a good idea to communicate with local Environmental Health Officers from as early as possible, telling them about your meat selling plans and the food hygiene course.
Courses run all over the country: See for example those run by www.safehands.ie (their next course is on 19th June in Dublin)
According to Bord Bia: “Insurance cover for product liability, public liability and employers’ liability is now a minimum requirement for all markets. However, the level of cover required can vary significantly, depending on the type of food you are selling.”
Having researched options for 4-5 weeks, secure you place at a farmers' market. While there are queues of potential stallholders for markets these days, farmers with their own produce tend to get some preferential treatment on waiting lists.
Have a suitable butcher secured and briefed on what exactly you want, in terms of cuts, packaging, labelling.
Along with your transport and basic retail kit – freezer and chilled display unit - have a sheet outlining your traceability measures ready for your first trading day. This should include the following:
Tag number of animal, breed, date of birth, slaughter date and location, date of preparation and blast freezing, plant number, best before best before date (when frozen; you will need a use by date if fresh), meat plant number, herd number (i.e. farm number and the individual animal's tag number, which acts like a batch number), storage information (minus 18 degrees) farmer details (name and address) In conversion to organic licence number, Certifying body, licence expiry date.
Generate publicity if possible, and establish and develop your information for market conversations. When you start, take feedback and use it where applicable.
Once this is all in place, you are ready to go.