Thursday, November 26, 2009

Muiris O Grady: heather weather

The pair of us have been on the road, telling farmers from Donegal to Bantry about Organics with Altitude. So it is high time we updated this site. I'll start with a feature on Muiris O Grady.

Muiris is a neighbour of Joe Condon, and he's just started direct selling extra mature mountain lamb. The info below is in fact a few weeks old now: Muiris is still enjoying direct selling just as much.

Muiris O Grady from Waterford is another dipping his toe into direct selling. Indeed, the market he is selling at is new too. Kilmackthomas market, just outside Waterford city, began Halloween weekend in the business park.

There were about 15 stalls at the busy Friday market, including crafts, apple juice, flowers, two meat stalls, cheese and vegetables.

O' Grady featured in farming some months ago, when selling his extra mature blackface mountain lambs to high end restaurants. He stocks 500 sheep and 15 beef animals, along with 30 of the extra mature lambs in the Nire Valley.

I asked him why he choose this new route to market. “I just wanted to try something new, to try to make a few pound”. With lamb numbers in severe decline for many years across Ireland, coupled with poor prices, its easy to see why a young sheep farmer would try something new.

A step like this, into direct selling, is a big one. Farming is in many ways the exact opposite of direct selling, especially somewhere as isolated as the Nire Valley. You simply don't interact with large numbers of people a daily basis.

Speaking to him just after his first market, I asked Muiris O Grady if he had any retail experience of any sort. He laughed: “no, nothing like that!” He continues. “It was a big change I can tell you. But it was fine, you just get on with it. Most of the customers just bought and that was it. Some chatted, just asking where it was reared and that, just general chat.”

“It wasn't bad at all. It was a nice experience in fact. I know what I had. I wasn't trying to cod people. It was good stuff. And now I'm looking forward to going again. Definitely”.

He described the market as “good, very lively, with a great atmosphere. Importantly, “I sold out of what I brought. I brought 1 ½ full lambs, in chops, legs, stir fry mince and burgers. They all went”.

“The chops in particular went well. I also had cooked samples of the stir fry mince. I found the burgers were a bit slower, but I know people who have sampled them and once they've tasted them, they come back for more. People aren't as used to lamb burgers”.

As so often is the case, the cliches about farmers' markets' prices and customers are way off the mark in the case of Killmackthomas.

There were of course some people from the business park, but there were plenty of country people from around rural Waterford, doing their shopping.
And the prices were bang on: 4 chops for 6Euro, 6 chops for 8Euro; 4 burgers for 6Euro, stirfry mince for 6 Euro and legs for E25.

O' Grady gets his meat butchered by John Finn in Mitchelstown, who lets it hang for over a week.

Muiris O Grady jumped in at the deep end. Facing into more of the same with sheep, he diversified into selling good food direct to customers.

He didn't have an iota of experience of dealing with the public in a retail context. But sometimes, this actually sits quite well with the customer. Customers are craving value and authenticity – real proper food at a decent price.

And it is quite easy to see how and why they would then trust the genuineness of the real farmer selling his own food.

With so many brash, polished snakeoil salesmen out there, a farmer selling his own food direct has, to use a slightly obscure but eminently apt word, genuinity.

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