delicious. Magazine’s 2015 Produce Awards: we’re in the top 3 again!

If you follow us on Facebook, then you already know that we’ve been selected as a finalist in the category of Outstanding Farmers’ Market for the 2015 delicious. Magazine Produce Awards for the second year in a row.

Of course, last year, we won.

Sometimes I still can’t believe it.

Anyway, we did and all of a sudden, we discovered that our little market is a bit more than just a little market. We’re not only meeting standards, in some ways we’re also setting them.

When this year’s nominations opened, I hoped someone would put us forward again (thank you, someone!) and we’d make a big effort to reach the finals. A few of the market’s committee members were confident that we’d get this far, but I’m not a very brave person, so wasn’t going to assume anything.

We put together the best application we could and hoped it would be enough, which [ahem] clearly it was. The biggest thing we’ve done since last year’s awards is the e-market and we’d like to think it’s a real feather in our cap. As far as we know, there’s nothing quite like it out there. Perhaps that had something to do with our selection, but I’d say it’s largely because of our insistence on maintaining the authenticity of the market.

And that was pretty much that, as far as I was concerned. We’d made the finals again and that was recognition enough. I’d convinced myself that they’d never give the award to the same market two years in a row, but we’d still have another graphic to add to the website and then of course, there’s the kudos. Until I learned something the other day.

All three finalists are previous winners of the award.

Well then. That kind of changes things. It’s really anyone’s game. I feel my inner competitor stirring. So let’s take a (good natured) look at the form in this competition, shall we?

The other finalists are very worthy opponents and from the outset, I want to say that we have the utmost respect for these markets and this exercise is meant in the spirit of friendly competition, but is also an interesting exercise in itself. Trust me: there’s something to learn from this.

I’ve gone through the application form for the award and gathered what information I can from the markets’ websites. Some questions are a bit dry and relate to some mundane management issues, so I’ve left them out. Obviously, you can drive a tractor through the room for error here, but let’s give it a go. In fact, I’d love to hear from the market managers to make this form guide more accurate.

[Disclaimer: the last question isn’t really on the application form.]

Finalist #1: Albany Farmers Market (WA)

Outstanding Farmers’ Market in: 2008
Market day and time: Saturday 8.00am to 12.00pm
Market frequency: Weekly
Number of stalls (any type): 27
Foundation date: April 2002
Commercial or not-for-profit?: not-for-profit
Charter?: kind of
Are all food groups represented?: looks like it
Can you make a 3-course meal?: yes
Wine available?: no
Horticulture goods available?: not sure
Resellers?: no
Non-food products?: flowers only
Ratio of fresh to value-add: 3.5 : 1
Ratio of organic to non-organic: too hard to work out
Plastic bag policy?: can’t find one
Geographic boundary?: Great Southern Region (39,000 sq km)
Community outreach?: not sure
e-MARKET?: NO

Finalist #2: Harvest Launceston (Tas)

Outstanding Farmers’ Market in: 2013
Market day and time: Saturday 8.30am to 12.30pm
Market frequency: Weekly
Number of stalls (any type): 78 (really?? WOW!!)
Foundation date: 11 February 2012
Commercial or not-for-profit?: not-for-profit
Charter?: yes
Are all food groups represented?: looks like it
Can you make a 3-course meal?: yes
Wine available?: yes, also beer and cider
Horticulture goods available?: no
Resellers?: no
Non-food products?: flowers only
Ratio of fresh to value-add: 1.7 : 1
Ratio of organic to non-organic: too hard to work out
Plastic bag policy?: can’t find one
Geographic boundary?: Tasmania (68,400 sq km)
Community outreach?: not sure
e-MARKET?: NO

Finalist #3: SAGE Farmers Market (NSW)

Outstanding Farmers’ Market in: 2014
Market day and time: Tuesday 3.00pm to 5.00pm or 6.00pm
Market frequency: Weekly
Number of stalls (any type): 35
Foundation date: 1 January 2013
Commercial or not-for-profit?: not-for-profit
Charter?: kind of
Are all food groups represented?: yes
Can you make a 3-course meal?: yes
Wine available?: no (very rarely)
Horticulture goods available?: yes
Resellers?: no
Non-food products?: only if supplementary, flowers
Ratio of fresh to value-add: 2.5 : 1
Ratio of organic to non-organic: too hard to work out
Plastic bag policy?: not officially
Geographic boundary?: 160km radius from Moruya (80,400 sq km)
Community outreach?: foodbank program etc
e-MARKET?: YES!!

The analysis

So what can we learn from this breakdown? Well, the first thing I discovered is that our defined local region is bigger than Tasmania. But seriously, I think it’s the consistencies that stand out. Not-for-profit. Weekly markets. No resellers. Diversity of products. No non-food vendors. An alignment with the definition of a farmers market as described by the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association, which includes all the above as well as being well located with good public facilities available… stuff like that.

Then what will be the determining factor in deciding the winner? That’s the real question, isn’t it? And that’s where the fun begins. The decision might just come down to some hair-splitting, or perhaps one market simply does it better than the others.

There are questions I have that the other markets’ websites can’t answer. For example, do they have a program of inspecting all their producers? I’m the first to admit that we’re behind schedule with our program, but we have a program and we’ve recently picked up the pace with it. It’s a big ask, though. It’s a very time consuming activity. I can’t imagine inspecting 78 farms and enterprises. Sheesh! But certainly in our case, it’s essential to ensuring the authenticity of our market and protecting its integrity. Without that, our customers have no reason to invest their trust in the market.

The by-product of these inspections is a profile page for each stall holder that’s written by us, not them, allowing customers to become better informed and therefore better connected to their local food system.

I’d also be interested to learn what sort of engagement the other markets have with their communities. Our market distributes excess food to a couple of local welfare organisations, for example. We also try to assist a local social enterprise for the disabled where we can, by marketing and using their products and services.

Through our Backyarders scheme, local residents have the opportunity to make some extra cash from their garden’s excess by selling it at the market without all the overheads of a stall holder.

We’ve also just launched our recipe database that we intend will become a reservoir of recipes created by market customers, local chefs, stall holders (anyone really) using local produce. The other markets also publish recipes on their websites, so we’re a bit slow on the uptake with this one, but we hope it will be one of our most effective tools for promoting our producers and — so importantly — help our customers learn more about seasonal eating.

All of these things contribute to knitting a community together, which is where farmers markets really shine.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one last question… Do the other finalists have an e-market?

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