The SAGE Farmers Market has been operating for almost 2 and a half years now.
That’s gone so quickly and so much has happened. The market is an unequivocal success, confirming our strong belief that there was (and is) a demand in our area for local food.
We’ve grown in that time, both in numbers of stall holders and customers. That means more locally grown food is on more local tables than there was before January 2013 and that is something we’re very proud of.
But there is still a long way to go before local food can really be said to have arrived. Or rather, returned. Let’s unpack that a bit (as they love to say these days).
Some napkin economics
We have regular customers that come from as far north as Ulladulla and as far south as Tilba, but for the moment, let’s just consider Moruya. Our town’s population is somewhere around the 6,000 mark. According to the data from our survey we’ve conducted over the last 12 months (which we’re still processing, so the data I’m using here are preliminary… we’ll be writing more about that later in the year), an average market attendance is getting close to the 600 mark. Let’s do some very unscientific analysis based on those numbers for a minute.
Visitors to the market come in singles, couples and groups. Let’s play it safe and work on a market crowd of 550 visitors. Let’s say that those 550 visitors represent 200 households (ie. customers). The data tell me that just over 63% of customers come from the 2537 postcode, so call it 55% from the Moruya area… that’s 110 Moruya households. A bit of googling tells me there are roughly 2,600 households in the Moruya area (urban and rural).
Our survey data also tell me that the average spend per customer is around $40 per market. They also tell me that only around 50% of those customers shop at the market every week. Now, I know how much I spend at the market (for 3 people) and it’s more than $40 and it’s every week, so I’m definitely not the typical market customer.
Is this starting to paint a picture? I can’t paint and I’m not an economist, but I hope that at least some kind of fuzzy image is forming in your mind.
Basically, what it says to me is that there’s still a long way to go before local food can move from the niche to the mainstream. And SAGE’s ultimate aim is to make it mainstream. A farmers market isn’t going to achieve this on its own, but it is a key contributor to this aim.
Yeah, but… so what?
Imagine a local economy with a food industry that can feed even 1,500 households. How many other local businesses would benefit from that level of local industry? What kind of social capital would be created as all those farming families get involved in sporting clubs, schools, the arts, volunteering? What kind of protection would that provide 20 years from now when our community is facing challenges such as peak oil (or oil scarcity as it may be by then) and climate change?
Imagine that replicated in towns dotted all around the country. Local economies linking to and overlapping with other local economies. What kind of self-determination would that create for rural and regional communities?
Farmers markets are not there to attract tourists, although they perform that function too. They’re not somewhere for a hobbyist or retiree to make a little extra on the side, although they perform that function too. Farmers markets are economic stimulators and community activators.
Not only that, the food is better.
In the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to write a lot more about why it’s important to shop at farmers markets. But for now, here are 5 reasons in a nutshell. We’ll be discussing each one in a lot more detail, so stay tuned.
5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD SHOP AT A FARMERS MARKET
- the food is fresher and therefore tastes better
- the food is fresher and therefore lasts longer
- the food is fresher and therefore is more nutritious
- the market connects people to each other and builds community
- the market keeps money local
If you stick with us as we explore all of this, you will discover that eating locally is so much more than a quaint activity to amuse visitors. In fact, it’s not at all. Regularly filling your plate with food grown or made locally, by a family-owned farm or business, is nothing short of conscious and powerful activism for a more sustainable and secure future. For you, your family and your community.