From the SAGE Farmers Market managing committee chairman, Stuart Whitelaw.
Photos by Kate Raymond
Monday nights are the Sunday nights of the hospitality industry. Try to eat out on a Monday, even in regional areas, and your choices are limited. Monday evenings are when the annual delicious. Magazine Produce Awards are held, and this year they were in Melbourne. That’s all fine, except if you are a finalist in the “Outstanding Farmers Market” category and your market is on Tuesday afternoon and you’re on a 7am flight in the morning.
Market Manager Kate Raymond and I arrived at the QT Melbourne just in time to see the judging panel for the awards lining up for the press photographs. It was a genuinely stellar line up – Maggie Beer, Matt Moran, 2017 Ashley Palmer-Watts (an International Guest Judge), Shannon Bennett, Guillaume Brahimi, Peter Gilmore, Christine Manfield, Andrew McConnell, Alla Wolf-Tasker, Colin Fassnidge.
The awards describe themselves as “a celebration of Australia’s magnificent bounty of ethical, sustainable and innovative ingredients, and the passionate, talented people behind them”. Whenever a producer snatched the opportunity to speak at the awards, they were at pains to explain the sustainable credentials of their produce, and this aspect is taken very seriously by the judges.
The venue had the most extraordinary displays of some of that produce that we have ever seen. It was especially gratifying to see the fruit and vegetables displayed so well. The seafood display was startling. A centrepiece of spanner crabs encased in huge blocks of ice, carefully lit, surrounded by stations serving freshly shucked oysters, sections of crab and sea urchin roe.
This is the third time that the SAGE Farmers Market has made the finals of this very prestigious event, and (you may remember) we won our first two finals. This time, the deserving winner was Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market (Tas) and we couldn’t be more proud to be a gold medallist in the company of the other finalists, Albany Farmers Market (WA) and Willunga Farmers Market (SA).
The champagne and wine flowed, as did some mysterious dark brown cocktail that seemed to be working its spell on a large number of the attendees. Bearing in mind our early flight back to Merimbula, a certain degree of restraint was called for. The finger food was great, although one of us drew the line at wallaby carpaccio. I was tempted to ask if it was Redneck or Swamp but that probably would have caused consternation.
This next bit begins with a grumpy old man warning.
There were two disappointing elements to the awards from my point of view. Firstly, the recipients were not invited to give any kind of acceptance speech. Now, I know that this prolongs the event and takes from serious drinking time, but it felt like the winners were getting the bum’s rush. We also learnt little about the winners other than the précis that Matt Preston gave (while struggling valiantly to keep the whole shebang from disintegrating… cocktail, anyone?).
Secondly, this amazing event brings together people from all over the country who are “passionate about food”. We got to hang out in a very flash place, enjoy a feast for the eyes and taste buds, but thanks to the music and noise levels, we were unable to communicate with each other. It seems a waste of potential that we come together so rarely and can’t even have a conversation with the winners of our category about anything meaningful. There has to be a better way.
End of rant.
That said, we appreciate the recognition of genuine farmers markets that the Produce Awards brings and it’s gratifying to receive the accolade of gold medallist. The standard is very high and we are proud to think that we are part of setting that standard.