Buzz created by text invite to school farmers' market

21st January 2011 at 00:00
Event thought to be first of its kind is new strategy for farmers and food producers

A mass text is sent out summoning mums and dads to a farmers' market at Elgin Academy, and soon carrots and cabbages are flying off the shelves.

Nearly 200 second-year pupils helped run this event, which is believed to be the first public farmers' market held in a secondary school. There are between 70 and 80 farmers' markets held regularly across Scotland. Until now, only a few have been held in primary schools.

The text invitation to Elgin Academy is a new strategy for these farmers and food producers who are impressed when several hundred customers pack into the school hall. They're selling everything from fruit and veg and venison to ice-cream, jams, bread and cheeses.

The market aims to build on these pupils' first-year enterprise projects, led by the home economics department and co-ordinated by the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative in conjunction with the Royal Highland Education Trust. The idea is to introduce pupils to local food production and encourage enterprise and teamwork.

Enthusiasm has spread to their other classes, with pupils creating posters in art and a group filming as the action unfolds. Pupils sell candles and chocolate truffles they have made at two school stalls, while others help visiting producers clear their stock. They welcome customers and help them carry their shopping to their cars.

There has also been class work in the run up to the market. "Some of the classes were responsible for researching the companies that were coming to sell, some were responsible for looking at farmers' markets in general - not only in Britain but across the world," says Geraldine Cullen, PT home economics.

"They looked at the history of farmers' markets, some looked at marketing and how we could market it via the school website, using posters and in the school notes in the local paper. We broke it down into smaller tasks for each class."

The event is being run as a pilot project but could be staged later this year on a larger scale involving even more departments, in line with Curriculum for Excellence.

"I think it's given the pupils an actual realisation of where food comes from. We were really lucky that one of the farms donated veg to us - carrots, parsnips and onions," says Mrs Cullen.

"And it was interesting the week when we were cooking, because the kids don't really see their veg coming in covered in dirt; they only see it packaged at Tesco or wherever they go. And they were very vocal in terms of the quality of the veg as well - they could taste the difference."

Among the visitors was local MSP Richard Lochhead, Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, who praised their efforts. "It's fantastic that S2 pupils from Elgin Academy have organised their own farmers' market, which will help them to develop enterprising skills while learning about the top quality food and drink that Moray has to offer."

As well as preparing and cooking locally-sourced vegetables, the pupils also got hands-on experience with a local butcher who came in and talked to them about his produce and showed them how to link sausages.

While shopkeepers across the country are bemoaning the loss of pre- Christmas trade because of snow, the school's farmers' market is able to celebrate - almost everything goes.


Showcasing their produce in schools such as Elgin Academy is helping local farmers and food producers to reach new markets.

And it's not just mums and dads who are recognising the opportunities to buy locally and reduce food miles. The home economics department usually sources ingredients from local supermarkets and cash and carry outlets.

But after the farmers' market at Elgin Academy, principal teacher Geraldine Cullen says they will investigate buying affordable local produce.

"I am going to sit down with the department and look at that, because I would quite like to certainly do the fruit and veg through one of the local suppliers. I think, cost-wise, that should be cheaper for us and it's a far superior quality that we can get," Mrs Cullen says later.

"It's just the mechanics of ordering it, getting it paid for and getting it delivered. But that is certainly something we are keen to look at and keen to change, and I would say it's brought it more to the forefront because we have had the farmers' market."

National development officer for Farmers' Markets in Scotland, Douglas Watson, welcomed the school's enthusiasm.

"I think there is a very strong ethos within the farmers' markets and producers' group," he said. "They are very committed to what they do and they believe in fresh, nutritious local produce. They also recognise that the kind of people who attend farmers' markets are perceived to be slightly older, reasonably affluent people.

"So the producers and the whole farmers' market movement is extremely behind the idea of engaging with younger people and ultimately extending the demographic that comes and supports markets and producers."

Mr Watson welcomed the idea of schools using locally-sourced market produce. "It would seem to be a missed opportunity if schools weren't at least trying, within their permitted budgets, which I understand is an issue for everybody and schools particularly. But where the budgets can afford it, I think it would be extremely beneficial because it would reinforce the message of the market coming to the school.

"Here is the market come to your school, you've seen the produce and now there is a continuing relationship. I think that's what we would like to see come out of it, continuing relationships with the schools, above and beyond the actual day of the market."

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