[This year’s post-award analysis is a bit late, as we spent last weekend in Daylesford at a gathering of local food types from all over the country. More about that soon.]
It wasn’t false modesty when I kept telling people we weren’t going to win the delicious. Magazine Produce Awards Outstanding Farmers’ Market two years running. Sure, I thought we deserved it, but I never thought a magazine would award the same market twice in a row. It didn’t seem like much of a story and I figured the awards were there to showcase markets around the country… we’d had our turn. We were just happy to be a finalist again and get to hang out at a fancy do at Bennelong. When they announced us again, our surprise was genuine.
This year, however, our committee chairman Stuart Whitelaw and I managed to not entirely lose the plot and can actually remember accepting the award. As I said in my earlier blog post announcing the win, we decided to have a short speech prepared in case we were given that chance to speak to a room full of fooderati. It’s a rare opportunity to make some important points to the media and influencers of food culture in Australia and we weren’t going to fumble it like last year. Firstly, we wanted to say that farmers markets should not be considered “gourmet”. They should be a regular and normal part of every community, not a tourist attraction (although they are that as well). Secondly, that farmers markets are essential to maintaining a strong local food system. That means jobs, a resilient local economy and better food security.
People cheered (which was cool) and later came up to us to express their appreciation for the things we said (which was gratifying). That’s not to say that farmers markets don’t have the best quality produce and gourmet products available. They do. But first and foremost, farmers markets are incubators for new growers, new businesses and new ideas. They forge connections between growers, eaters and entrepreneurs. That’s what I love about our market… watching people passionate about good food getting a chance to do what they love and sharing it with people.
So then, why did we win it two years in a row?
Well, it turns out I’d already answered that question before we even stepped inside the gorgeous (and very pink) Bennelong Restaurant at the Opera House. The remarkable thing about this year’s Outstanding Farmers Market category was that all three finalists were previous winners. That’s the first time that’s ever happened in any category of the delicious. Magazine Produce Awards. That speaks volumes about the judges’ focus on the principles of what makes an authentic farmers market. It’s not just about being a market of stall holders who genuinely grew or made the produce. All three markets are held weekly, define our local region and enforce it, are not-for-profit and maintain a strong focus on farmers rather than value-adders.
So what got us across the line? This is what the judges said:
SAGE won for its progressive outlook, community focus and constant innovation, which has made it a market many other market managers are looking to for ideas and inspiration. Examples of what sets it apart are its innovative online ‘e-market’ connecting more people with local food, and its slot on Tuesday afternoons making it a weekday shopping destination.
Bingo. Weekday event, e-market, connecting more local people with more local food. No mention of truffles or kefir (although we’ll have both one day). SAGE’s raison d’être is to rebuild our local food system. We’re not mucking about here. We’re serious, but we know we’ve got a long way to go yet. We need more growers, we need more infrastructure offering more service and convenience for customers… but we’ve got a plan and we’re working on it.
If you want to be part of it, hop on board. Join SAGE. Come to a working bee. Shop at the market. Bring a friend with you. It can be as easy as that to contribute something to the work that SAGE is doing. Without community, SAGE wouldn’t exist. Without community, the market wouldn’t exist and that’s why we accepted the award on behalf of our stall holders and our customers. That’s why, at the market the next day, we gave out strawberry seedlings (donated by Soul Patch) to our customers as our little thank you, while we sipped our celebratory glasses of sparkling wine.
Keep working. Keep pushing. We have still barely started. There really is no way they would award our market Outstanding Farmers’ Market three years in a row. The judges have made their point about consistency, about sticking to principles and about innovation. That was the story to be told this year. Next year’s award will show that we’re not the only market that can set standards… that Australia has a whole bunch of fantastic farmers markets (because we do). There are also more and more new kids on the block who will be strong contenders very soon. But after two wins, we’re feeling pretty fired up about things and our competitive streak has been awakened. We’ll be gunning for the finals again, that’s for sure. Friendly competition can only be good for local food all over the country and we’re definitely up for it.