It's not often that a dose of government statistics increases your appetite. But Australian Food Statistics 2010-2011, published this year by the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, features a survey titled "Social and Economic Dimensions of Farmers Markets in Australia". Its findings make salivating reading.
The survey was sent to the managers of farmers' markets nationally, and the findings were encouraging indeed for market fans. Sixty-nine per cent of managers reported increased stallholder numbers since their markets started, 64 per cent reported increased shopper numbers, and a gratifying 97 per cent believed their markets were viable long term. Farmers' markets are not a fad; they have become a sustainable, increasingly habitual link in our food chain.
Andrew Wood from Glenora Heritage Produce in Tooborac, about an hour north of Melbourne, is one of many food producers who pick, slaughter, process or bake to satisfy the demands of customers who shop at farmers' markets because they want to know the provenance of their food, or just for the taste of it.
"Farmers' markets have been instrumental in our success, the backbone of our business," says Wood, who also supplies his flavoursome organically grown vegetables to top Melbourne restaurants including Vue de Monde and Cutler & Co. He can barely keep up with the demand for his cornucopia of tomatoes, chard, herbs, pumpkins, brassicas, beans, beets and more.
Vince Heffernan of Moorlands Biodynamic Lamb, near Goulburn in New South Wales, used to wear a suit to work when he was a businessman in Canberra. Now his uniform is a checked shirt, braces and battered bush hat, just the ticket when he's selling his succulent Texel lambs at Canberra Region Farmers' Market.
Wood and Heffernan are examples of countless hard-working farmers and artisan food producers who have embraced the famers' market movement, and there are now around 160 markets trading far and wide, in Albany, Western Australia, in Townsville, Far North Queensland, and in between. Their settings vary: converted railway sheds, school playgrounds, car parks, wine cellars, showground pavilions, town malls and footy fields. Some are held weekly, some fortnightly and> some monthly, but all are friendly, fun, community-based food hubs offering a flavour-packed alternative to homogeneous supermarket aisles.
So wheel out that insulated designer shopping trolley, pop a basket on your bike, or grab a backpack and head down to your nearest farmers' market for your pick of the local, seasonal produce sold by the people Andrew Wood calls "gastronomic farmers". Hear their stories and taste the difference.
MARKET LEADERS This is a personal selection of just some of my favourite farmers' markets.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Bangalow Farmers' Market Lovers of washed-rind cheese can expect an epiphany at Justin Telfer's Bangalow Cheese Co stall. The bounty from the verdant Byron Bay hinterland also includes local cane juice, Coopers Shoot tomatoes and a wide selection of health-giving organic vegetables. Every Saturday, 7am-11am, behind Bangalow Hotel
Eveleigh Farmers' Market A historic refurbished railway workshop provides an all-weather venue for this thumping Sydney market, which has more than 70 appetite-inducing stalls: Sorbello's heirloom tomatoes, saltbush lamb, Thirlmere poultry, Hand 'n' Hoe organic macadamia products, truffles in season, even micro-wineries. Go early to avoid the designer-trolley crush and to secure chairs at the communal breakfast tables. Every Saturday, 8am-1pm, 243 Wilson St, Darlington
QUEENSLAND Noosa Farmers' Market Not many markets can boast a daybreak traffic jam, but in Noosa, residents rise early to shop for a cornucopia of tropical fruit and chlorophyll-packed vegetables. Add local spanner crab, avocados, cane juice, mangoes and low-food-miles coffee beans for a taste of the region. Every Sunday, 7am-noon, Australian Rules Football Club, Weyba Rd, Noosaville
Townsville and Proserpine The Noosa market provides the template for two new Far North Queensland markets, both operated by Noosa Farmers' Market founder Shane Stanley: in Townsville (every Sunday) and Proserpine (Whitsunday Farmers' Market; first and third Sunday of every month).
Adelaide Showground Farmers' Market Sunday morning in the city of churches starts with a local-food sermon and an offering of South Australian produce, from freshly caught Coorong seafood to Limestone Coast Cheese Company cheese. Every Sunday, 9am-1pm, Adelaide Showground, Leader St, Goodwood
Victor Harbor Farmers' Market A terrific showcase of the bounty of the Fleurieu Peninsula - wild-caught seafood, free-range poultry, cherry juice, grass-fed beef and a bevy of healthy vegetables. Every Saturday, 8am-12.30pm, Grosvenor Gardens, Victor Harbor
TASMANIA Harvest Launceston Farmers' Market This exciting new market sells peerless produce from Tassie's north, including Elgaar Farm organic dairy foods, Erinvale spuds, Southern Sky buffalo cheese, Tasmanian Natural Garlic garlic bulbs, Thirlstane Gardens specialty lettuce, farmed rabbit and Mount Gnomon rare breed meats. Worth a Bass Strait crossing. Every Saturday, 8.30am-12.30pm, Cimitiere St Car Park, Launceston
Farm Gate Market Another breed-'em-tough outdoor showcase of Tassie produce. Try exotic creamed fennel honey, Mount Nelson microgreens, and the free-range pork and smallgoods and Dorper lamb of Bruny Island's Erhard Vinkman. Every Sunday, 9am-1pm, cnr Elizabeth and Melville sts, Hobart
VICTORIA When you're shopping in Victoria, look for the accreditation logo of the Victorian Farmers' Markets Association. Stallholders who carry the logo have grown, raised or made what they sell. Twenty-seven markets have also been accredited under the scheme, including the two listed here, meaning at least 75 per cent (in regional areas) or 90 per cent (in metro areas) of their stallholders are accredited. For a list of accredited Victorian markets, see vicfarmersmarkets.org.au.
Gasworks Farmers' Market Melbourne is blessed with authentic urban farmers' markets. Here, early birds catch the pick of the Glenora Heritage Produce vegies, Gundowring ice-cream, Bultarra saltbush lamb and snowy white Holy Goat cheese. Third Saturday of every month, 8.30am-1pm, Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham St, Albert Park
Golden Plains Farmers' Market The Bellarine region is arguably best known for wine, and a sip of local Austin pinot noir will fortify shoppers filling their trollies with Brodls eggs, La Madre sourdough, Spring Creek organic vegetables, and chubby garlic from Ross Creek Garlic. There's a great potted vegie and herb selection for DIY growers. First Saturday of every month, 9am-1pm, Main St, Bannockburn
WESTERN AUSTRALIA Albany Farmers Market Meet Daniel Felton, salad farmer, add King River avocados, Torbay asparagus, venison pies and a dose of big southern smiles. This is regionalism at its best. Every Saturday, 8am-noon, Collie St, Albany
Margaret River Farmers' Market Look for Burnside organics, Arkady Farm lamb and Jarrahdene pork from McHenry's Farm Shop, local pecans, Two Fat Cows ice-cream - and of course wine. Second and fourth Saturdays of every month, 8am-noon, Old Hospital, Cnr Tunbridge and Farrelly sts, Margaret River
WORDS JANE ADAMS PHOTOGRAPHY JOHN LAURIE
This article was published in the November 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.