Farmers' markets are now a key link in the food chain. Jane Adams has been shopping around for this update.
Western Australian chef Dave Allen is a keen supporter of farmers' markets. Since his community in Boyanup in the south-west started their market three months ago he has completely changed his provedoring arrangements and now secures all his supplies locally. Fish, fowl, venison, vegetables, fruit, eggs, cheese all travel a mere 20 minutes or less to appear on his market-led menu.
Up near Port Macquarie a tomato grower felt so confident from his market exposure he invested $1.5 million in a hydroponic facility, other vendors have found Sydney distributors, developed new brands and packaging and watched their farmgate sales grow steadily.
The benefits of farmers' markets are definitely beginning to strike home - with farmers realising business growth; shoppers compelled by the rediscovery of fresh food, of taste, flavour and seasonality, and communities experiencing the power of local economic development, pride and renewal driven by the influx of people on market day.
Government too is seeing the light of this grassroots community movement, a low cost, low barrier generator of agricultural development with resulting impacts on sustainable farming and the rural economy.
There are now over 40 farmers' markets trading across Australia (in all states) and several in New Zealand with more evolving monthly. This quiet revolution is changing the way we shop for food and eat. What's more, it's putting cash into farmers' pockets, pride in their hearts and smiles on both their and regular market shoppers' faces.
Farmers, food producers and families are discovering the feel-good factors and power of the straight from 'gate to plate' model that is rapidly reconfiguring links in the conventional food chain.
Every weekend in parks, showgrounds and racetracks across the country, farmers are pitching tents and trestles and piling trailers high with farm-grown produce, freshly picked, plucked and reared, ready for the dinner table.
Sydney alone now has over six regular farmers' markets, and in New South Wales the network stretches from Albury to Byron Bay. Christchurch is the latest to start trading in New Zealand, a local government fostered project that is destined to rejuvenate the city centre on weekends. Dunedin's Saturday market (commencing 1st March) at the landmark railway station will feature regional produce and also draw on South Canterbury and north Southland farms. Hastings and Blenheim both boast successful 'stayer' weekly farmers markets held at showground sites.
The inaugural Australian Farmers' Market Conference held in November in Bathurst (notably the hometown of the Edgell family) attracted over 65 delegates. Market managers, farmers, economic development officers, enlightened local government staff, food networkers and nutritionists all contributed to a debate that will provide added momentum and structure to this already vibrant movement.
Chief Executive of the NSW Farmers' Association, Jonathan McKeown posted his commitment to sustainable agriculture and farmers' markets, bullishly citing the Association's weekly market in Sydney's southwest as a sign of things to come.
Trevor Sargent, Economic Development Officer in Port Macquarie, manager of a monthly market at Wauchope that regularly attracts 50 to 60 vendors and 3000-plus shoppers, has already seen powerful results.
Apart from the aforementioned tomato grower, a local pasta maker has upgraded to a commercial kitchen and a rabbit farmer has secured a contract with the Sheraton hotel chain.
Ian Thomas the lynchpin of Hawkes Bay's Farmers Market has seen his free range egg business boom. His local supermarket sales have soared 400%, farmgate sales track up steadily, so too does his Wellington market share. Last year Thomas launched a completely new egg brand, 'The Other Side', and is developing extension products, including a chook manure called Crappé.(Seriously)
Considerable as all these individual achievements are, they are put in perspective when you discover over 1 million people regularly shop in over 3500 farmers' markets in the USA, accounting for 2% of all food sales.
At the FreshFarm Market in Washington DC, managed by Conference keynote speaker Bernadine Prince, the annual customer count is 81,000 and the market posts over $1.5 million in sales.
'Australians have a real passion for food. It's no wonder farmers' markets have taken such firm root in Australia, and so quickly,' commented Bernie Prince. 'Their development is especially significant given your traditional food distribution systems. To create a local food network requires a core of energetic true believers - both farmers and food activists, and I have met lots of them in Australia. The 'buy local' farmers' market movement is off to a terrific start.'
True to Bernie Prince's word, the delegates at the national conference agreed to establish the Australian Farmers' Market Association, an umbrella organisation that will ensure the authentic viability of existing farmers' markets and foster the development of new markets in interested host communities.
The Association has six state representatives and invited IanThomas, the driver of the successful Hawkes Bay Farmers Market, to represent New Zealand. The website is under construction at www.farmersmarkets.org.au .
SOW THE SEED
Communities seeking to start a market need to focus on several fundamental steps to assure success.
Not-for-profit community association status offers benefits when negotiating development funds and insurance premiums.
A predominance of fresh food stalls ensures regular support from shoppers. Exceptions to the rule are plants, cut flowers, potted herbs, compost, worm farms, seeds. Craft is a definite no-no.
Shoppers expect to meet the grower, maker, baker or breeder when shopping at a farmers' market - not an agent or reseller. What's more, the produce should be high quality. Offer both and watch customer loyalty soar.
Write the operational charter, publicise it and stick to it to avoid distracting disputes.
Appoint a motivated, independent saint who is an early riser and good promoter.
Jane Adams is a passionate proponent of farmers' markets and is the interim Chairperson of the Australian Farmers' Markets Association. Email: jacom [at] bigpond [dot] net [dot] au
MARKET SHOPPING LIST
New markets start up every month - grab a shopping basket and find one near you.
Blenheim Farmers Market
A&P Park, Maxwell Rd Blenheim
Every Sunday, 9am - noon
Contact: Chris Fortune
Telephone (03) 5793599 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (03) 5793599 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Email: Marlfarmersmrkt [at] xtra [dot] co [dot] nz
The World Famous Christchurch Produce Market
Tuam Street Carpark, Christchurch
Every Saturday and Sunday, early morning till early afternoon.
Contact: Larry Buck
Telephone (025) 883276 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (025) 883276 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
email market [at] snap [dot] net [dot] nz
Hawkes Bay Farmers Market
Showground, Kenilworth Rd, Hastings
Every Sunday, 8.30 - 12.30am
Contact: Ian Thomas
Telephone: (06) 879 8393 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (06) 879 8393 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Email: farmerdan [at] farmersmarket [dot] org [dot] nz
Otago Farmers Market
Railway Station north carpark, Dunedin
Every Saturday 8am -1pm
Contact: Alison Velvin
Telephone (03) 456 1203 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (03) 456 1203 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Whangerai Farmers Market
Every Saturday, 7am - noon
Contact: Robert Bradley (09) 4095812 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (09) 4095812