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Farmers ring the changes by cutting out the middleman

A group of Clare farmers and food producers are reinventing how they sell their goods to consumers, reports Andrew Hamilton


New approach: Fergal Smith of Moy Hill Community Farm with some fresh produce at the Reko Ring Group in Lahinch Co Clare. Photo: Natasha Barton

New approach: Fergal Smith of Moy Hill Community Farm with some fresh produce at the Reko Ring Group in Lahinch Co Clare. Photo: Natasha Barton

New approach: Fergal Smith of Moy Hill Community Farm with some fresh produce at the Reko Ring Group in Lahinch Co Clare. Photo: Natasha Barton

A car park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is an unlikely spot for an agricultural revolution. But that was the setting on a wet Wednesday evening in the middle of July this year, when the rain came lashing and the first instalment of the Lahinch REKO Ring took place.

Despite the foreboding weather, seeds were sown on that first REKO (translation 'fair consumption') Wednesday in west Clare which, over the past few months, have started to germinate.

Founded in Finland in 2013, the REKO Ring movement connects farmers directly to local customers. Each REKO Ring operates a Facebook page where farmers advertise the products they wish to sell at that week's Ring. Customers pledge to buy products by commenting on the Facebook, page, while all the producers and customers then come together for a 20 minute pick-up, once a week.

Hundreds of REKO Rings have sprung up around Finland over the past six years, but the Lahinch REKO Ring is the first group of its kind in Ireland. Fergal Smith of the Moy Hill Community Garden is one of its founding members and believes that it offers farmers a chance at getting a fair price for their produce.

"The great thing about the REKO Ring is that there is no percentage taken out along the way. You have the producer and the consumer and there is no middle person," said Fergal.

"You [the producer] put an add up on the REKO page in Facebook, the customers comment to say what they want and that becomes a legally binding contract. So when you come to the drop-off point, you're not doing any trading, you are just doing a pick-up. So there is no legal requirement to have a trading licence.

"You can do these drop-offs at any location, schedule them for times that suit customers, like after work, and have them in places where there is plenty of parking."

Convenience is one of the major benefits of REKO Rings, with producers able to bring only what they need to fulfil orders, while the entire drop-off is completed within half an hour.

"Everyone is getting what they need. The producer is turning up with orders that they have already sold, they're only staying here for half an hour and then they are on their way again. So you can get a day's work in as well as coming to the REKO Ring," said Fergal.

"The consumer knows exactly what they are getting when they arrive. It's very convenient, very easy, it's in and out and no hassle."

The Lahinch Ring now has almost 900 registered customers, with local farmers supplying a variety of meats, cow's and goat's milk, vegetables and eggs, while local food producers also supply baked goods, preserves and other locally made products.

"Starting it off was a bit of work. You need to convince people of the idea and that it will work. It's new so people have a lot of questions. But once it is up and running, it's simple," added Fergal.

"I have done farmers' markets in the past - anyone can stand out on a rainy day for half an hour to sell their produce, but standing in the rain for four or five hours [at a farmers' market] is tough, especially when you don't know what you are going to sell.

"You are harvesting and hoping and you always hope more than you ever will sell, so you always come home with a bit of waste. With REKO, you turn up with the exact amount and you always sell everything you bring.

"The only thing that producers really need to be aware of is that you can never trade on the day. You can't bring extra produce and sell after you have done your order. You only bring what you have orders for."

A second REKO Ring has just opened up in Ennis and, according to Fergal, the concept could be spread over the country and replicated in a matter of months. "There are different producers in Ennis than we have in Lahinch. It is just getting going and not quite known about yet. But once people catch on to the Ennis one, I think it will be a really popular REKO Ring," said Fergal.

"We have pushed the Lahinch REKO Ring a lot because we [Moy Hill Community Farm] have a great following in this area. We wanted to show this as an example of what could be done all around the country. There is great potential in this for expansion, once people know about it."

'Three strike policy'

The Lahinch REKO Ring operates a three-strike policy to make sure customers always show up in time and collect the produce they ordered.

"The one thing that can be tricky is trying to make sure everyone is on time. For this to work for customers and farmers, people have to be there on time," said Fergal.

"We operate a three-strike rule - if you turn up late or fail to turn up three times, then you are off the Facebook page. If we don't do that, we loose the efficiency of it and the culture of it. Everyone has to buy into it. If they don't, it all starts to fall down."

Indo Farming