It’s Saturday morning in Glasnevin industrial estate. Bright sunshine belies the bite in the cold north wind outside an anonymous building on Slaney Close. A few signs indicate the reason for the busy parking outside. Honest 2 Goodness market is here.
‘Quality Starts at the Point of Origin’ is its message.
Johnny McDonald serves fresh fish from Kilmore Quay from his van outside the entrance. Across from him, a Gourmet Street Pizza van flanks the doorway. Inside there’s a hum of activity. Stalls groaning from the weight of produce invite shoppers to browse, taste, discuss and buy. It’s all there, fresh from the dairy, meadow, beehive, pasture, vegetable plot, butchery, bakery and chocolatier. Warmer climes have sent olive oil, wines, citrus fruits, rice and pasta.
Shoppers move from stall to stall, buying their week’s provisions. Parents with children, singles, couples. Consideration is given to each purchase, discussion about its provenance, purpose, nutritional value and its destiny-to the family table. Against the backdrop of Martin Tyler jazz, the hum of chat is punctuated by bursts of laughter. A quick scan confirms an earlier impression- there are no overweight children here. Cause or effect? Who knows? Malcolm Gladwell would call it valid. In his bestselling book ‘Blink’ he asks ‘how do you know what you know in the blink of an eye?’ and then, he tells us.
Over by the refrigerated units a small baby in her carrycot is cooing delightedly at a woman in chef’s overalls who coos back in the high pitched tones reserved for babies
-“Who are you? Has your Mammy gone to do her shopping and left you here to entertain us?”
As more of the stallholders join the chorus, the infant’s mum returns, laden with produce
“ I hope you don’t mind. I just left her down in your corner knowing she’d be alright”
-“Not at all, we’re delighted,” says Bríd Carter, market organiser.
“ Wouldn’t she make anyone’s day?”
Honest2Goodness market has been here in Glasnevin industrial estate since November 2009. Conceived out of passion and principle, growth has been organic, responding to customers’ needs. Some producers begin by bringing a few jars of jam, for example and soon become a stallholder with a full range of preserves. At first, three organic Irish cheeses graced the chilled cheese counter. Now there would be between fifteen and twenty in any given week.
“ We’re offering an alternative, however small, to the large supermarket chains” says Bríd. Along with properly sourced meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables, our pantry stall aims to provide the dry goods that are standard in people’s food cupboards e.g. rice, tinned goods, tomato passata, spices. If it’s a choice between our market and a supermarket, a busy family will default to the supermarket on Saturday morning- they won’t do both, so we have to make it easy for them by being a true one-stop-shop. What brings them here is the quality of produce and the connection between the land and what we eat.”
She warms to her theme
“Not only have the large supermarket chains severed this connection, but they’ve spread their tentacles into consumer areas such as pharmacy, hardware, banking, insurance. Wherever they set up, small businesses fold up and die.”
What galls Bríd especially is how ordinary people have willingly given up their purchasing power to these monoliths whose profits, by and large, leave Ireland.
“Supermarkets with a loyalty card scheme know everything about you. As a customer said to me recently ‘they even know when you have your period’”
In the 2-½ years we’ve been trading, relationships have begun and thrived, relationships between consumer and providers.
“Older people bring a lovely courtesy to the engagement. ‘I’ll be away next week so I won’t see you till the Saturday after that’”
And they ask for what they want.
“ I’m hoping to make some marmalade soon” (in January) “when do you think you’ll have Seville oranges?” Paddy, Bríd’s husband takes the order. No sooner said than done.
Families with small children come to do their weekly food shop then go to the market café where there’s a children’s play area and second-hand book shelves (€1 each for this week’s charity). There they browse the complimentary newspapers and chat over breakfast, brunch or lunch. Bríd’s scones, fresh from the oven that morning are worth the trip. The hot dish of the day (always made from market produce, and wheat & dairy free) sends everyone home satisfied.
It all began in childhood. Growing up in the west of Ireland all six children had their chores. Bríd liked to cook savoury things and remembers making scrambled egg at the age of seven. Áine liked baking. Colm, who imports the market’s wine, found his niche a little later.
After the Leaving Cert, she joined the Public Service thinking that she’d give it a few years while finding her feet. To her immense surprise, she found her feet there and stayed for thirty years before retiring in 2007.
“I was so lucky. Technology was being introduced into the Public Service. I did a computer science course at night in Trinity College, Dublin. A stint in the Dept. of Finance was followed by another introducing the first government telecommunications network”. She moved to other departments, all the time being responsible for introduction of business systems and the management of change.
“ I learned a lot” she says “and then had the opportunity to apply it to my passion”
“What we aim to do here is to provide the people of the north and west city with a community focus along the lines of the Third Space – a concept that was introduced to me by Sean Mullan (Sean now has his Third Space open in Smithfield)”.
This concept was new to me so I asked her to expand.
“ Your home is your ‘first place’, your workplace is your second. The third place is where people meet, mingle, socialise. In bygone days, the Church and pubs provided that focus, but not any more. People who come here relate to the produce on sale, the providers, the stallholders and each other. They give us great feedback”.
“And they are prepared to pay a little more because good, nutritious food is never cheap. How could it be? Irish people spend about 7.2% of disposable income on food compared with 13.5% in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy and France. Why is that?”
While I stand pondering her question, I hear the fishmonger saying to a customer “Sorry, I just sold the last of them” and realise that I’d better hurry up and buy my own provisions. I had promised the family that I’d bring home some mussels for lunch- Nigel Slater’s definition of real fast food at its best!
“What you see here around you is the culmination of the week’s work,” says Bríd. The early days of the week are devoted to meetings, talking to suppliers, dealing with Environmental Health regulations, insurance, updating the website etc. Right now I’m trying to find someone, anyone who can supply Irish grown asparagus to us. By Wednesday, I e-mail all stallholders to confirm who’ll be there on Saturday”.
This information is essential for the weekly newsletter, written and circulated on Thursday.
Social media are her delight, and @brid_h2g has over 1,000 followers on Twitter. The newsletter is tweeted, sent by e-mail to all who’ve signed up, and uploaded to the h2g Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/glasnevinmarket
( Addendum Wednesday 16th May 2012-
the market now opens every Wednesday from 12 to 7 pm)
Early on Saturday morning, the ovens are on at 6 am. Stall holders arrive from nine-ish and customers from ten-ish. By 4 pm it’s all over.
Asked to sum it all up in one word, she says “ Soul” or “Animus”.
I’m reminded of WB Yeats’ line…
‘Unless soul clap its hands and sing and louder sing….’
Byzantium in Glasnevin? This is where it begins!