LONG READ: Coming up for air

Since I was given this gig to coordinate the market, the work involved has just kept growing. Not quite exponentially, but what I thought would be a fairly simple matter of establishing a few administrative systems and doing a bit of social media, has turned into a surprisingly varied, demanding and thoroughly satisfying occupation. I really had no idea what I was getting into.

That’s in no small part due to the incredible vision and ambition of our market’s management committee. The biggest project we’ve been working on for the last while has been the e-market. With the extra funding we received towards the end of 2014, it meant all hands on deck to get that up and running, which we’re proud to say, it now is. That’s pretty much why the blog has fallen silent for long periods, but it looks like we can now all take a breath and focus on the day-to-day operation of the market itself.

So, what have we been up to in the last 12 months?

We got some serious cred

Well, we won that award. We did write about that, because that was pretty special. But it was also the beginning of a lot more outside interest in our market. For example, it contributed to an emerging conversation about the benefits of mid-week markets. Whether we were pioneers of this idea or early adopters isn’t the point, but since we began on New Year’s Day in 2013, other farmers markets have been springing up mid-week. Kiama Farmers’ Market was the first we became aware of and ever since we won that award, I have received calls from people in other towns wanting to pick my brain about the whole mid-week (and weekly) thing. The latest gratifying moment was an acknowledgement of our efforts from the new weekly farmers market in Port Macquarie. So it seems we’re onto something. In fact, just two nights ago, our committee chairman Stuart Whitelaw and I travelled up to Ulladulla to talk to a group starting a weekly farmers market there… on a Thursday afternoon.

The award has also brought some extra media attention from some pretty swish food and style magazines, which is nice, but our focus remains very fixedly on our local community.

We got a bunch of new stall holders

Not only can our market boast to have one of the few remaining family-owned fishing businesses in the state at our market… we now have TWO family-owned fishing businesses!! Affordable Seafood is based up at Batemans Bay (look for them on Beach Road, next to the shell museum) and fishes in state waters closer to shore and in the local estuaries. They bring fresh flatheat, bream, mullet and more (depending on the catch, of course) and also harvest prawns.

Affordable-Seafood-stall

We also now have two pastured beef producers — one Angus and one Belted Galloway. Meringo Creek Farm to Plate also produces lamb and goat, but beef more regularly.

meringo-creek-farm-to-plate-stall

Newcomer to the region, Emma Lipscombe of Mogendoura Farm also sells the gorgeous hides of their animals. They are soooo soft and lovely!

Mogendoura-Farm-stall

For a long time, I’d been thinking our market had an olive-shaped hole in it. I’d approached a couple of growers within the region, but no one was interested in travelling to Moruya on Tuesday (yes, mid-week has its drawbacks as well as its benefits). Until Phill Dodd from Erehwon Orchard contacted me. Phill now drives up from Towamba near Eden every week (with occasional interruptions) with his table olives and a range of other olive products, as well as a number of hazelnut products, which he also grows. I still can’t believe my luck that Phill has joined our market… and his products are amazing!

Erehwon-Orchard-stall

A couple from Gumly Gumly (near Wagga Wagga… so good they had to name it twice… ah, it’s an oldie but a goodie) moved to Ulladulla in 2014. The first thing they did, even before they had a place to live, was book a stall at the market. Gumly Gourmet make great dressings and are working on getting their garden established to make more value-added stuff from their own produce. But they had a baby not so long ago — born just minutes to 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon — so it might take a little while yet. In the meantime, they’re utilising local produce from other growers.

Gumly-Gourmet-stall

Regular at the Tilba market, Alison Spurgeon brings her selection of homemade goodies under the banner of Lemon Myrtle Cakes. As the name suggests, lemon myrtle features in her products, but she brings a variety of treats using seasonal ingredients for the sweet toothed among us. A favourite is her recent addition of lemon myrtle ice cream.

Lemon-Myrtle-Cakes-stall

One of the founders of SAGE itself is a local growing legend, Michael Hulse. Mick is a regular at the Capital Region Farmers’ Market at EPIC in Canberra every Saturday and his spuds are now legendary. Deua Farm Produce is in a shared capital arrangement with Queen Street Growers, meaning their potatoes have been available at the market from the beginning, but now Mick has his own stall, bringing A LOT more potatoes with him, as well as a few other veggies that he grows.

Deua-Farm-Produce-stall

Even more seasonal stall holders have come and gone over the year. I’ll make sure to write about them when they return the next time their produce is in season.

We got a new SAGE Garden Intern

One of the most exciting steps SAGE has taken towards producing more local growers is the establishment of our SAGE Garden Intern program. Once a year, we select the best candidate to embark on an incredibly steep learning curve that takes them from novice, to fully fledged market gardener. You might know that Kyle Levier (Bumbo Road Produce and Kyle’s Coffee) was our inaugural intern over the 2013/2014 seasonal cycle. Kyle was really a guinea pig for this initiative and we couldn’t have hoped for a better one. He embraced the challenge with grace and gusto and since he completed his internship, he has established his own garden on the corner of Bumbo Road and the highway, near Bodalla.

His successor is Kat Cathcart and once again, SAGE has managed to find just the right person for this program. Kat’s attitude is, quite frankly, inspirational. Both Kyle and Kat have remarked that the challenge of taking on the internship is a huge one, but one for which they are both grateful. Part of the internship is the experience of selling what they grow at the market through the SAGE stall. It became clear this year that the intern needs their own stall in order to maximise their sales, so you can now find Kat selling independently, under the SAGE banner. It has made a huge difference to her sales and has been a similar boost to her confidence that she can make a living from growing food when the internship ends in a couple of month’s time.

Kat-stall

We started gathering data

While those of us involved in or who shop at farmers markets understand their benefits, there isn’t much actual data out there about Australian farmers markets. We put some feelers out in the academic sphere to see if we could find a university type to undertake an economic impact study for our market. We want to know how our market impacts the town and community. This information will, we hope, provide valuable insight that can help us identify strengths and weaknesses. The University of Canberra has already undertaken some research on the social impacts of a couple of other Australian farmers markets and expressed an interest in adding our market to the study. It’s taken a while to get going, but this work is now underway. Customers can participate by completing a survey (about 15 minutes) online (click here).

But we wanted something that was clearly economically focussed as well, so we decided to do our own study. There’s a handy website out there that provides resources for farmers markets to undertake an economic impact study, called marketumbrella.org. Using the tools it has created and makes freely available through the marketshare section on the website, we started to gather information. We decided to complete four surveys over twelve months and we have just completed our last survey. The report that the marketshare tool spits out from the data we enter is (while quite US-centric) fascinating. I would recommend any market management using these resources to survey their own market, if there’s not a handy sociology or economics researcher just loitering around. We are lucky to have a good base of volunteers to draw from (through SAGE), without whom this study would be impossible. Stay tuned for a lot more about this later in the year.

We had a huge summer season

It was great to see our seasonal stall holders return, helping to create a bumper market over the Christmas holidays. It brought some new challenges for locating stalls, as the main avenue overflowed onto the cross street. Experience is a great teacher, especially when you’re trying to work out how customers think and behave. Our second year of operation has seen us endure a lot more rainy Tuesday afternoons than we had in our first, but the Tuesday market before Christmas was one that really stands out. The lightening and thunder began almost on the dot of 3 o’clock. Then it rained. Then it poured. Then it got biblical. Customers sheltered with stall holders and helped them keep the marquees on the ground. When it was over, there was a lot of water.

The rain tested even the jolliest of temperaments But there's no keeping some stall holders down Everyone enjoyed the camaraderie that getting soaked together creates This was before the worst came... you can tell because people are smiling Santa and his elf managed to hand out all the treats during a brief respite The eye of the storm... it returned SAGE Farmers Market stall holders are hard core There were just a few little puddles lying around in the aftermath

Our customers are a faithful lot and it was still a good market, but not the Christmas Eve-eve bonanza that it should have been. Still, everyone who was there has a good story!

Summer also brought out some cool buskers. Check this guy out!

So what’s next?

Well, now that the e-market is operating every week from midday Friday to midday Monday, making that a success is a priority. We are working to improve it each week, with more products and more choice. The future of the e-market will see more services, such as delivery, become available, but until we can afford a vehicle and the staff needed to run that, we’ll keep doing what we can with what we have. If you know anyone with a refrigerated van just loitering about, looking for something to do on a Tuesday, please let me know. Seriously. We need someone with food handling qualifications and a compliant, refrigerated van.

The e-market is potentially the most important initiative we’ve started. It’s embryonic right now, but it allows more people to get locally grown food on their plates and that is fundamentally what the SAGE Farmers Market — and SAGE itself — is about. You can support the e-market and our local food system by encouraging your friends to try it. Please spread the word!

We’ve also been nominated for the 2015 ABC delicious. Magazine‘s Produce Awards. We don’t believe we can win it two years in a row, but by golly, we’re giving it a red hot go. We’ve sent in a smashingly good application that we hope will at least get us to the final three. We’ll find out on the 21st of May. Wish us luck!

That’s some of what’s been going on with the market in the last year. We’re going to make a better effort to write more about what we get up to from now on, so stay tuned to the blog.

See you next Tuesday!

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