So There I was, councillor accosted, Ken McDonald on side and I thought I was home and dry… not quite, laddie, not quite!
It turned out that this Councillor was the Chair of PKCs Agricultural Forum, established to look at ways of helping the agricultural and rural population in Perthshire. Ken McDonald was then head of Economic Development and they in turn assisted the Ag Forum in realising their aims, objectives and ideas. I had an invitation to the next Ag Forum Meeting.
My presentation to them was rapid fire, disjointed but impassioned. Ken liked the idea but knew it needed padded out and a force larger than me behind it. His suggestion was we set up a steering committee to include people from various council sectors and one from NFUS. Two of these people would prove to be of more value to the success of the market than I could have ever imagined.
Ken McDonald was a quiet, thoughtful, solid mentor and I learned a huge amount from him. He never directly opposed or tried to overrule me but would certainly challenge me and make sure I had done my thinking. He allowed me to make my decisions and stand or fall by them. At one point I very nearly dropped the whole bag and it was Ken who pointed out where I had gone wrong, and more importantly, how to fix it.
Then, of course, we had to deal with Environmental Health and all that would bring with it! Eric Lewis was the senior EHO at the time and became the man I would turn towards to keep us on the right track regarding legislation. Along with Jim Dickson he built a template for Farmers’ Market Environmental controls in a market situation; it remains one of the reasons why Perth Farmers’ Market has gained a reputation as being one of the strictest and safest in Scotland. It is dull, it is onerous and depending on which side of the paperwork you’re on, that is or isn’t a good thing! What I will tell you is this. When they launched the enquiry into the Ecoli outbreak in Wishaw Jim Dickson and myself were asked to give a report on the standards that had been set for Scotland’s farmers’ markets; all had been led by Perth’s example.
Back to the good stuff! Margaret Matthews was Perth city centre manager at the time and it seems that we were destined to meet! She had been looking to do some kind of market in Perth City Centre but her objective was to make it an attraction; something to pull the masses into the town and get them opening their purses.
My determination was to keep it as a pure farmers’ market; to win this I had to battle against the sideshow element of a typical city centre attraction. And in order to do this, I had to make it enough of a draw on its own. Back I went to the sceptics and reluctant farmers to convince them to get off of their knees and help me. I needed them on board; we could only pull this off as a united front and a genuine article.
For me, this was not going to be just an attraction; a market for a city centre event. This was going to be the vehicle that would allow us as farmers to become an integral part of Scottish life. The town and the country meeting once again; coming face to face with each other. If we could meet the public and tell them the truth about what they were buying, we would start to regain the trust that had been lost amidst the BSE crisis. It was always bigger than just a bloody market; I held my nerve and won the first battle.
Cue battle number two – setting a date for the first market! I wanted to wait till after lambing was finished at the end of May but Margaret insisted it had to be in April to catch the early spring atmosphere. She dug her heels in and battle number two belonged to her. (Thank goodness, because she was spot on!)
So there we were in January of that year. Date set and an incredible set of time pressure resting on my shoulders. I learned at that point that if I was to serve the public, speak to a new direct customer, then my farming calendar could not be my only consideration. Suddenly the world didn’t stop turning because I started lambing. The “WHY” in my vocation as a farmer took on new meaning – times were changing and I had a new role to play. And so I set about running our phone bill through the roof.