COVID-19 is having a huge impact on small businesses, retail outlets, and restaurants. All restaurants have been closed in Ireland and the plans to reopen them are very difficult and in some cases impossible due to space and social distancing.

In rural Wicklow, a local farm shop run by husband and wife team have come up with an innovative way to stay in business and serve their customers. Becky Allen (relation of the famous Ballymaloe chefs Darina and Rachel Allen) decided to open an honesty shop outside their farmhouse and this is her story of surviving the COVID lockdown.

Tinahely Farm Shop

The Tinahely Farm Shop emerged as a small undertaking by husband and wife team Philip Hadden and Becky Allen based in old farm buildings. It started as a simple farm shop with local baking but swiftly grew into a popular restaurant with lovely home cooking, a gift shop with eclectic and popular artisan styled gifts, fresh vegetables, and baking for sale as well as a large indoor children’s play barn.  Over the years, as the Tinahely Farm Shop grew in fame, more and more activities were added, including Wicklow’s (if not Ireland’s) largest indoor beach – complete with its own Lighthouse.

During our podcast for Wicklow Good News, Becky tells me about the popularity of her premise for visiting school groups.

“It’s not uncommon for us to cater for large groups of children, in fact, the largest group at one time was 120 children,” explains Becky. “It’s great for kids because it is very safe. The barn is a large area and children really enjoy old fashioned playing on the beach with the added excitement of karting or giant chess.”

Becky is also passionate about the emphasis they have on recycled products.  The business is based on 95% recycled product which makes her very proud. There is also a small petting farm with miniature donkeys and ponies, pigs, sheep, and hens and ducks.

Becky hails from the legendary foodie family of Darina and Rachel Allen.  When setting up her business initially, her family was very helpful, sending out tweets and messages of support to help promote the business.

“We set up in a recession and this support really made a difference.”

Becky has also inherited the family baking skills and this is her forte. “Yes, I love baking scones and brown bread, but my real passion is making chutney.”

Hubby Philip is very hands-on in the farm shop and even makes a mean pot of raspberry jam. He actually did the cookery course in Ballymaloe where he learned his jam-making – although Becky confesses that despite his fame, he tends to leave the jam-making to her these days.

It is a real family venture with their three children: Hannah, Harry, and Archie, all helping out too either in the baking or vegetable growing.

The Farm Shop has also enjoyed awards and has been featured on television on more than one occasion. Francis and John Brennan featured the Shop in their popular TV series At Your Service. And both Becky and the shop have received awards from the Irish Times and Network Ireland awards.

In fact, in an exclusive, Becky was able to announce that the famous Wanderly Wagon from the long-running RTE children’s TV series of the same name has just arrived at the farm. While the Shop is closed now, parents and indeed grandparents will have the pleasure to revisit their childhood once COVID19 is over. The series ran from 1967 until 1982.

“So we're the custodians of it for the minute and we're getting that up and running and we hope to do puppet shows after the lockdown.”

While The Farm Shop has had to close its doors to the public due to the virus, they are still as busy as ever.

“I’m still getting up a quarter by six every morning and going down to the farm shop and into the kitchen and I am making scones and brown bread. Philip is bagging up lettuce from our polytunnels. We're making jams and chutneys and we selling them via an honesty shop at our entrance.”

Becky put up this idea initially on Facebook and was pleasantly surprised at the response. They don’t have any staff at the moment so the whole family is working very hard, baking the scones, picking the lettuce, bagging it, and then stocking the honesty shop outside the premises.

Such is the popularity that customers need to be there early to get the fresh scones. Customers pull up and select what they want to buy, leaving behind the money in the honesty box.

“It’s contactless for our customers. And it’s lovely to have trust in our neighbors. In fact, Harry, whose job it is to count the money, has often found too much as people prefer to round amounts up. It’s really very inspiring.

“We have to get back to trusting people again. That’s what we are doing. And the positive response from the local customers is fantastic.”

Normally the shop is stocked by 9am but the fresh baking and vegetable go very quickly. By 3pm there is very little produce leftover.

Aside from a way of still providing fresh baking for their customers, Becky feels very strongly that this time of lockdown can be beneficial for people to do their own baking.

“I hope during this time we can re learn the skills of baking again and being self-sufficient.  For me it’s a pleasure and I’ve always loved doing it but I hope others can find the pleasure too.”

The Tinahely Farm Shop’s honesty shelf is open at 9am and the goodies available include scones, brown bread, jam, salad leaves, spinach, Swiss Chard, eggs, cakes, and carrot cake buns – fresh from the oven or the ground.

Listen to the podcast here or view the video below

The Wicklow Good News podcast is presented by Jillian Godsil and produced by Marlena Murphy. More details can be found here

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