We had had years of doom and gloom, scare stories and negative press, and suddenly, here was a good news human interest story. For me personally this was all a bit bewildering. Suddenly, me, Jim Fairlie, I was the guy with the answers. Scottish agriculture had found a path; everything was going to be rosy again and we would all live in the land of milk and honey.
This was great…. except I didn’t have any answers! I had just had an idea that people backed and put their faith in. I suddenly realised that I had given people a promise. And I didn’t know if I could deliver. I had more than one minor panic attack in those days let me tell you.
I went from thinking “This is amazing, here we are, all in this together” to suddenly feeling this huge weight of responsibility. What was worse, I wasn’t the farmer. I worked for a German businessman who had granted me latitude to make it happen. But he didn’t want me being too media comfortable and started putting pressure on me from his end. I had created a double edged sword for myself – immense pressure from myself knowing the promises I had made to these farming families and I created real tension in my workplace by being in the media. But I knew what I had to do – I launched myself into it completely. It has to be said there was a credit and a debit sheet to me and to my family when I did this and that is one of my few regrets…. but that’s a whole different story.
It became all consuming. I was scrambling about looking for answers to every wee problem that that farming side threw up. There were lots of wee niggly things and some bloody big major things as well. The committee and the council guys were fantastic but I had become the story and while I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it, it was also tough going.
The preparations went on, we ironed out the wrinkles, and everyone was set to go for the first farmers market on April 3rd 1999.
I had arranged for two butchers to come to Jamesfield farm to cut and pack all our lamb, beef and wild boar. Ian Miller was allowing us to use his on farm butchery as soon as “Auld Willie the butcher” had finished. So there’s me, Andrew Johnston and Sally Murray waiting patiently the night before the first market for these two lad to turn up. At 1.30 that afternoon, Auld Willie was finishing up and we were all ready to get stuck in. But . No butchers appeared. We waited… an hour later there was still no butchers. Auld Willie had said he couldn’t tackle it himself as there was far too much and he’d been cutting since 6 in the morning.
I was getting worried. Eventually at 3.30 we heard they weren’t coming, they had been told by their employer if they helped us, they wouldn’t have a job to go back to. It seems not everyone wanted to see us succeed.
I eventually got hold of the lads from Pitlochry Game, and they very quickly managed to get us two butchers who had just finished a shift up there. We all mucked in, with these two heroes cutting and us packing meat. Andrew got his boar done and had to leave, Sally had to pick up the kids and I swallowed my pride and I phoned my employer and his son who came over to help. We were packing our lamb till 1.30am. Home, sleep for 3 hours then up again at five to get set up.
I arrived in King Edward Street at 5.30am, running on adrenaline and high as a kite.
It was happening. The stalls were going up, people were there, it was starting to buzz and I was ecstatic. The next few hours are a bit hazy to be honest. I know I did some radio and tv interviews, I spoke to some papers, we got ready to go and at 9am I stood on my stall and looked around and thought
“Oh God. What have done?” “What if I’ve persuaded all these people this was definitely going to work and no one turns up?”
Adrenalin turned to fear. I was terrified. Then a few people starting to appear and one or two sales started to happen further down the street. At 9.30am an elderly lady approached my stall looked into my ice filled poly box and said, ” Is that lamb mince?”
“Yes,” I say
“I’ll take that then”…. As though this was the most natural thing in the world.
And that was the start of the revolution! Suddenly there were people everywhere, masses of them. Cameras, microphones, press and lots and lots of people. Dave Murray came to my stall which by now my boss had arrived at as well. He tried to give me a bottle of malt for packing their lamb the night before. I didn’t take it; I knew right there and then that we were all in this together.
Anne arrived later on that day. I remember vividly watching her walking towards me, with her eyes dancing and beaming a smile at me and our two wee girls one in each hand. I started rambling, telling her all about what had been happening in that first hour and a half, and I felt 10 feet tall. We had done it, from that first moment in France, all the debates round the kitchen table, the discussions, the thinking and the odd argument or two. We had done it and it was working. I knew she was proud of me. I watched our girls getting in behind our stall and looking in awe at this bustling, busy, carnival style market.
Ray White, Monarch Farmed Deer
Jenny Robb, Carroglen Eggs
Sally and Dave Murray, Lurgan Farm
Ron Gillies, Cairn O’Mohr Wine
Gordon and Durward Sweeties
Rendell’s Frozen Fruits
If anyone has any photographs of the first few markets I’d love a copy for the blog. Message me here! Jim