[Ed: It seems great minds think alike. Local grower and SAGE President Fraser Bayley has written an excellent blog post on this subject and our articles have some similar points to make. And similar points of style, too, apparently. Well worth reading Fraser’s article as well.]
Life has taken on a new colour since the night of Monday 14th July when our market was awarded the title of “Most Outstanding Farmers’ Market” for 2014 at the ABC delicious. Magazine’s annual Produce Awards.
The awards have been held for the last nine years and are firmly established as the nation’s best showcase of quality and innovation in Australian produce, food retailing, cheffing and of course, farmers markets.
Market Sub-Committee President Stuart Whitelaw and I attended the night, held at Kitchen by Mike in Sydney, expecting to spot a few celebrities, eat some great food and pick the brains of the managers of the other farmers market finalists. We never expected that our market would be announced the winner and from the moment we heard the announcement, everything suddenly got very surreal.
Our competition was the Koondrook-Barham Farmers’ Market and the Slow Food Melbourne Abbotsford market, both highly reputable markets in Victoria. Koondrook-Barham was a finalist in 2013 and the Abbotsford market is well established and widely loved. We were convinced that Abbotsford would win. Lots of people have been asking us how our humble market in a town few people have heard of could win, so I will try to answer that.
Firstly, here’s the criteria from the delicious. application form:
The 2014 Outstanding Farmers’ Market award will be presented to the farmers’ market that, in the judges’ opinions, stands out as a vibrant and engaging community focused market and which displays ‘true authenticity’, based on the following definition:
‘A Farmers’ Market that is a predominantly fresh food market that operates regularly within a community, at a focal public location that provides a suitable environment for farmers and food producers to sell farm-origin and associated value-added artisan food products directly to customers.’
Definition sourced from the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association.
We pretty much tick all of those boxes.
Secondly, this is what the MC, Simon Marnie, read out as he announced the winner:
The panel agreed that the ethos, integrity and determination of this market was truly inspiring and its ideals and achievements an inspiration for other communities.
So it seems that it’s not about being the biggest, or the most gourmet. It’s about making a difference in your community and it’s about getting more local food onto more local people’s tables.
As I said to the assembled crowd, we are a small community so it doesn’t take much to have a big impact and this market is having a big impact (or something like that… it’s all such a blur) and that sea of faces in front of me all started nodding in agreement. There were a lot of farmers in the crowd.
But we were also there with the ‘food glitterati’ of Australia, which I will confess, I don’t relate to. I don’t associate food with celebrity chefs, cooking shows or even magazines. For me, food is our common denominator. It’s what creates and binds communities, which makes food an economic, social and political force. That our market won this award suggests to me that the glitterati also recognise this and want to make their contribution by honouring and celebrating communities like us who are working hard to rebuild our local food system.
The exposure and recognition that this award will bring us will help us keep developing and growing our market, increasing its impact on local families, local businesses and our local community.
Thirdly, I went back to re-read the application we submitted for the award (yes, we were anonymously nominated, but we had to fill in a detailed form and provide other information). The questions we had to answer were looking for evidence of:
- Distinct rules about origin and buying direct from the grower
- Public facilities
- Balance of perishable vs non-perishable goods
- Food safety standards
- Engagement with the community
In particular, the first three points were emphasised. We believe that our market being held weekly was a major factor in our win. The other finalist markets are both held monthly. We know unequivocally that a weekly farmers market is necessary if you’re serious about creating a local food economy. In fact, twice weekly is ideal, so Moruya is lucky to also have the Saturday market where a few growers also trade. After the awards were presented, we found it was our brains getting picked and the main topic of conversation with the managers of the other finalist markets was “how can we get our markets to run weekly?” As if we’d know. We just naïvely kind of… did it.
But my serious response was to emphasise consulting the stall holders and only if they want it, is it possible to work towards a weekly market. Our market emerged from a cooperation between a few growers and right-minded volunteers. The basic decisions, like how often to run it and when, all came from those growers. I wish the other markets luck and I look forward to hearing their news of transitioning to weekly in the future. Certainly, in our experience, the public will enthusiastically respond. People shop weekly, not monthly.
The entire basis of a farmers market is that the customer buys from the grower – a local grower – yet there are markets out there that have let that foundational principle slide for the sake of meeting customer expectations. This is a difficult issue to grapple with. In the case of our market, we have dug our heels in on this issue. That means that you won’t ever be able to buy a primary product (ie. unprocessed, sold pretty much as it’s harvested) that can’t be grown within our defined local region (fish is a slightly more complicated matter, but you can read our rules for clarification).
So – sorry – but they’ve tried growing chickpeas here (for example) and it just didn’t work, so you won’t get them at our market. Different rules apply for secondary products (ie. processed), but that’s a longer explanation. Again, read our market rules and regulations if you’d like to fully understand how it all works. If you ever do see chickpeas at our market, you’ll know that someone worked out how to grow them on an economical scale somewhere within a 160km radius of Moruya. Customer expectation is one thing, but at a farmers market, the priority is supporting local growers and that will always be our guiding principle in every decision we make. Supermarkets have created an assumption in customers that food shopping should be convenient. A farmers market isn’t always convenient, but it provides many more benefits that a supermarket only pretends to offer. “Fresh”? Oh, really?
Perhaps the most interesting question on the application form was “Can you easily construct a balanced 3-course meal from available food produce?” Our response was and is a resounding “yes”. This point is so self-evidently important, it shouldn’t require further explanation. Suffice to say, our answer is a reflection of the diversity represented by our stall holders. We (the market committee) never cease to appreciate how lucky we are to have such a range of products at our small market: veggies, fruit, mushrooms, eggs, honey, milk, cream, cheese, fish, oysters, poultry, beef, lamb, goat, sourdough bread, French-style bread, patisserie, dips, pickles, jams, chutneys… and seasonally: berries, stonefruit, turkey, cut flowers. Not to forget locally propogated seedlings and seeds. For a market with around 20 to 30+ stalls, depending on the season, it’s incredible.
Finally – and this is the hardest point to write about without sounding insincere – our market is what it is because of our customers. I mean it. Supply responds to demand and our customers have created a demand for quality, local produce through their genuine desire for it… not because a celebrity chef smiled into the camera and told them they should want it.
Our farmers market belongs to our community. It’s why we chose not to use an apostrophe in the name of our market, where most farmers markets do. It’s not a market that belongs to the farmers. It is a market of farmers, for the community.
I hope this has helped to answer some of the questions people have been asking about how our little market could win a national award for the “Outstanding Farmers’ Market” for 2014. I’ll admit, I was genuinely shocked when I heard them call out our market, but after a day or so thinking about it, I think we totally deserve it.
See you next Tuesday, Riverside Park at 3pm.