The enforced closure of farmers’ markets has meant many foodies missing out on the opportunity to buy the best local produce. Brian Stormont spoke to Gary Boyd of the Huntly market which will be among one of the first to reopen this weekend.
Summer is always a great time to visit an outdoor food market as it is when our magnificent Scottish produce is at its best.
As we move into July, it would normally be peak time for farmers’ markets up and down the country, but the coronavirus pandemic halted those fantastic food forums in their tracks.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with Huntly Farmers’ Market reopening this Saturday after the country-wide enforced closure in the last few months.
As we revealed last week, many farmers’ markets are slowly putting plans in place for a return to our streets with many not anticipating reopening until August.
But the town square in Huntly will be buzzing with people keen to get their hands on the best local produce on Saturday between 9am and 1pm.
Huntly market treasurer Gary Boyd said that following hard work and excellent advice and assistance from Aberdeenshire Council’s environmental health department, they are raring to go.
“The Scottish Government are now allowing it and what they want is a risk assessment, a site layout and an operational plan to effectively handle the Covid-19 situation which, in essence, is all about social and physical distancing and enhanced hygiene measures – more gels and handwashing” he said.
“We have also made plans to streamline the customers’ transactions to speed it up, so there was a bit of work to be done there, but I have to say that the council’s environmental health, through Neil Rogers, was very helpful. He had taken the attitude that we need to get these things up and running.
“I’m not used to writing risk assessments and operational plans so they really helped with that. A lot of stallholders said, ‘But we are outdoors and the risks are minimal’, and I kind of agree with that but we need to have proper measures in place.”
There will be restrictions on numbers entering the market area, but Gary doesn’t expect that to detract from customers’ enjoyment – and can be altered dependent on how things are faring.
He continued: “So in essence where we got to was that we are going to restrict the numbers in the market. I couldn’t find any guidance on that, but Huntly square is a fairly big area so we have space to work with. However, we will have one entrance and one exit, these will be marshalled and, like supermarkets, we will count the people in and out, with a maximum of 40 in the market at one time.
“The environmental health said, ‘Just judge it on the day and put more in if you can, but restrict it if it looks like you’ve overestimated’.
“We’ve got the gels and the notices, but most people will have got used to the two metres. The normal sort of stuff on contactless payment will apply, if possible, but being a farmers’ market a lot of our customers tend to be a little on the older side and traditionally use cash. We are just trying to speed things along.
“We normally have a charity stall at the farmers’ market, but this time we have unfortunately said we can’t do that because we can’t have people dwelling. We have had to try and minimise that, although that should probably relax a bit in August. The idea was get this up and running and adapt as we go along.
“One of the big issues is there is so little guidance and most of us don’t have a clue about risk assessments – where do you start? It’s that sort of a daunting task. They’ve said they’re trying to get guidance out, but they are pretty busy which I can understand and I’m not complaining about it.”
The market normally has in the region of 18-20 stallholders, and there will be fewer in attendance on Saturday.
“We have 14 stallholders in for Saturday which will be two metres apart, but once we are up there I will have a proper look and I think we can get 18 to 20 in safely socially distanced,” added Gary.
“We have made sure that serving areas on the stalls don’t conflict with each other in case there are queues and we haven’t felt a need to extend the hours as it tends to be busy early on and relaxes later on about 12.”