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To Market, To Market

Farmers’ markets around the country are not all created equal say fair dinkum farmers who are keen to connect with their customers reports Carli Ratcliff on SBS Food on 20th October 2009.

What defines a farmers’ market? The Australian Farmers’ Market Association says a true farmers’ market must fulfill a number of important criteria:

  1. It must sell predominantly fresh food;
  2. It must operate regularly within a community at a well known public location;
  3. It must provide a suitable environment for farmers and food producers to sell products made from farm produce, e.g. jams, bacon and egg pies, to customers.

Jane Adams, Chair of the Australian Farmers’ Market Association introduced the farmers’ market concept to Australia ten years ago, having spent time in the US studying the management structure of leading markets and visiting farms, food banks and the USDA farmers’ market division. Returning home, she set about educating farmers in Orange, NSW about the potential benefits of beginning a farmers’ market in the region.

Adams helped to establish the first farmers’ market in Victoria in 1999 and has consulted on markets across the country and throughout New Zealand. In ten years more than 130 farmers’ markets have opened across Australia. The best support local farmers and are an established part of the community fabric.

Warwick Farm Trackside Market is one such market. Established in 2003 by the NSW Farmers Association, the market has since been taken over by local growers who formed a company, United Growers. The market runs every Saturday selling food grown predominately within the Sydney basin.

Keith Platt, of Great Roots, sells potatoes and greens at Warwick Farm, including over 600 kilograms of potatoes each week. Many are newly developed varieties not yet available at green grocers. He also sells indigenous leaves including Warrigal greens also known as Botany Bay spinach. “The market gives us an opportunity to introduce people to new produce,” he explains, “at a farmers’ market you can really engage with your customers, chat, share recipe ideas and get feedback from the people you grow food for.”

Steve Adey, lettuce farmer, agrees. Adey and his extended family grow lettuces, herbs and micro leaves under the moniker, Darling Mills. He began growing hydroponic lettuces on the roof of his father’s dental surgery in Sydney’s Glebe. He now supplies over 40 restaurants and attends six farmers’ markets across Sydney, “the markets put the grower in direct contact with the customer, which opens up all kinds of opportunities to grow the business,” he explains, “the markets have extended our customer base across Sydney.”

Ariana Aljinovic, Market Manager at Eveleigh Farmers’ Market (winner of The Foodies’ Guide to Sydney 2010 award for ‘Best Market’) says the market, in Sydney’s Redfern, has grown exponentially since it opened in February. “It has grown incredibly quickly, there are now 4,000 people shopping at Eveleigh each week.”

Aljinovic, says the nature of the market has really captured locals interest, “people appreciate authenticity, it is crucial that our stallholders are the people who grew or made the food,” says Aljinovic, who spends part of every week conducting spot visits to stallholders farms to ensure their produce is genuinely local.

Shane Stanley runs three farmers’ markets in the area surrounding Noosa, Queensland. He also visits stallholders on their properties to ensure authenticity. Interviewed recently by Jennie Brockie for SBS Television’s Insight, Stanley said, “ I go visit the farmers myself so I know they’re growing it. I get photos with the farmers to prove to people that these are genuine farmers.” He feels the term ‘farmers’ market’ is used too freely by people, “cashing in on that ‘farmers’ market’ name when they are not truly farmers.”

Adams has seen similar imposters. “We have found stallholders who have bought boxes of fruit and veg from the wholesale markets, thrown a bit of dirt on it and showed up to a farmers’ market to make a buck.”

Stanley believes, “If we are going to have real farmers’ markets, we need to put some sort of legislation in place or some sort of criteria… or accreditation system.”

The Victorian Farmers’ Market Association agrees that authenticity is paramount and is currently rolling out an accreditation scheme for farmers’. The scheme is two fold, providing accreditation to growers after farm visits, and to markets who uphold the values of a true farmers’ market. Adams hopes that the Victorian model will soon be rolled out across other states.

In the meantime, Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Graeme Samuel, on the same Insight program said current legislation already outlaws misleading conduct by retailers, including stallholders.

“There is a law there already. It's contained in part 5 of the Trade Practices Act and it says, ‘thou shalt not engage in misleading and deceptive conduct,’” he explained. “You can’t represent that you’re a farmers’ market if you’re not genuinely a farmer’s market.”