Farmers’ markets began to emerge in Australia around the late 1990s. That’s relatively recently when you consider the “real food revolution” started back in California in the 1970s. According to a 2002 article in the Bulletin by Anthony Hoy, it began as an alternative lifestyle, counter-cultural offshoot, which gradually became accepted by the mainstream. Although it’s taken a while to catch on here, farmers markets are growing in acceptance and popularity every day. There are lots of reasons why this is a good thing.
The idea that fresh, locally produced food is better for us isn’t new. For generations raised on parental admonishments to eat up our veggies or else, we don’t need further enlightenment. And in years gone by, mostly it was fresh and locally produced (or what of that you could put away for a rainy day), or nothing. It’s only been in the last few decades that we’ve been so overwhelmed by the proliferation of alternatives, that many of us have forgotten why we should care about fresh and locally produced.
Of course there are two markets in Australia that have been going for far longer – Adelaide’s Central Market which opened in 1870 and Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market which opened in 1878. But what I’m talking about here is what Max Coster (who wrote some influential reports on farmers markets back in the early 2000’s for the Australian Government) termed “new generation” or “producer only” markets. According to Coster, the distancing of farmers from consumers came about through the rise of food processing, stricter health regulations and the spread of supermarkets. While all these factors and potentially more played a part, it seems to me the introduction of the supermarket was the overwhelming impetus for changing our shopping culture. Once people began to realise they could buy things like strawberries and cherries all year round, or mangoes and pineapples in any Australian State, demand for out of season, out of locality produce grew. Where it came from, how it was produced, or even how inferior it tasted, mattered far less than that it was available.
That’s changing as a result of economic, social and environmental factors related to the different world we now inhabit. One of the reasons food provenance is assuming a greater significance is because of rising concern about the risks inherent in intensively farmed food. Issues such as genetic modification, the use of herbicides and pesticides, the health impacts of processed food, misleading food labelling and animal mistreatment are contributing to a growing distrust of what’s in the supermarket.
According to a recent article in the “National Geographic“, farmers markets are going gangbusters in the US, in large part thanks to consumers’ interest in “food transparency” and desire to know the full story behind how their food is produced.
That’s reflected here as Australians are realising that “farm gate to plate” is better for a whole host of reasons; better for the farmers, better for the local community, better for our health, the environment and so on. And it tastes better. And it’s a really enjoyable experience to buy from the person who grows the stuff, to inject the personal back into the food buying and selling experience. As anyone involved in a farmers market can tell you, they build relationships.
Someone who knows a lot about how that works is Amanda Daniel, formerly CEO of the Adelaide Farmers’ Market. In an article titled “Is That Local” published in the April/May edition of Aspire Magazine, she says buying local not only enriches your life and helps your local community, but gives you influence in the food chain.
It seems counter-intuitive but in an age when we’re all empowered by technology to communicate as never before, we seem to be struggling in a sea of anonymity, trying to make our voices heard above the clamour. But in food purchasing, how, where and why we shop, can be hugely influential. Even if you simply skip the food and veg section at the supermarket and buy what you’d normally buy there from a farmers market, that will make a difference.
We’re starting to realise that in terms of food the old traditional ways were best. And that means we’re seeking authenticity. When you buy directly from the person who’s actively involved in producing the food, who depends for their livelihood on that food being good, you can feel far more confident about the wisdom of your purchase. As well, it’s a great way to learn about varieties of fruits and vegetables you mightn’t have tried before, to sample new tastes and flavours and learn first-hand how best to cook, store or serve whatever you’re buying.
The Australian Farmers Markets Association is the industry body that lists all the markets in Australia plus provides information and resources for market organisers and stallholders. Here in South Australia, we’re spoilt for choice. As well as the iconic Central Market, we have the Adelaide Farmers Market at Wayville, Prospect Farmers Market, the Market Shed on Holland and further afield the amazing regional markets at Willunga, Barossa, Victor Harbor, Adelaide Hills, Mt Pleasant, and other locations.
As a food lover, I love going to a market. I love the atmosphere, the colour, the friendly, community atmosphere, and above all, the food. But I get lazy. Popping into the local supermarket to do the weekly shopping is an ingrained habit, because it’s easy, I can get everything from toilet paper to turnips in the one place, wheel it out to the car and be on my way. I don’t mean to denigrate supermarkets. They’re convenient. For the most part they work hard to meet customer demand, they provide much needed jobs and we all need toilet paper. But shopping there is a poor experience compared to going to a market. It’s totally impersonal – you can fill up a cart and get through the checkout without exchanging a word with anyone (apart maybe from saying yes or no to flybuys or cash out). So I’ve decided to put my money (and feet) where my mouth is, and start patronising my local farmers market far more regularly.
A new farmers market for South Australia
And in case you haven’t heard, there’s now a new kid on the block – Port Adelaide’s Wild at Hart Fresh Food Market. Steph Taylor, who owns the Port’s Red Lime Shack cafe, is the mover and shaker who’s got the project off the ground entirely through her own initiative. She’s passionate about Port Adelaide and is demonstrating that in a practical way
Passion and commitment are the building blocks of great markets, but what’s needed to keep them going is the support of the local community, and as consumers that ball is firmly in our court.
by Anne Green