Yesterday, two SFM Committee members and I drove up to Ulladulla (a town about an hour north of Moruya) to witness another important event in the restoration of our local food system.
A small but passionate group of Ulladulla locals organised themselves to start up the Gaia Farmers Market. It took some doing, but they did it and it was a fantastic first market.
Costa (if you don’t know who Costa is, then educate yourself, please) was there to open the market, along with Shoalhaven City Councillor Mark Kitchener and local Indigenous Elder Noel Butler. In his usual charismatic style, Costa delivered his own local food Sermon on the Mount (an appropriate analogy, given his biblical beard), preaching the importance of knowing where your food comes from and the benefits of food that is legitimately fresh.
Noel Butler welcomed everyone to country (in local indigenous language — yay!) and pointed out that this land has been feeding those that live on it for tens of thousands of years and it has the capacity to do so again. He gave a small and fascinating insight into the horticultural history of the area. The market itself is located centrally, right next to the Ulladulla Civic Centre and also, it turns out, right next to where a market garden operated from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. That land is still vacant… hmmmm… how amazing would it be…
The crowd was big. The fresh produce disappeared quickly. It all felt very familiar. When our market began, we had a huge demand for fresh produce, especially vegies. It takes a few seasons to address that demand. In fact, the supply-demand issue is an ongoing one, but given our market is now 2 and a half years old, our growers are getting a handle on it. It’s a difficult issue to manage and there’s no quick solution. You simply can’t make food grow faster. As I’ve said before, if we keep eating what they grow, they’ll keep growing it and growing more of it.
But more than that, we have to be patient. We have to give our growers time to increase supply, make mistakes, try again… and we have to maintain the demand. Supermarkets have changed our attitude towards food dramatically, but there are those of us who remember what it was like before we could buy strawberries in winter. I’m in my mid-40s. Milk used to be delivered to our driveway in bottles every night (small irrelevant factoid: my brother’s first job was a milko). I can even vaguely remember fizzy drink deliveries when I was really little (we kept the bottles in a crate in the hall cupboard). I’ve seen the birth of microwave meals. I’ve seen a lot of change in our attitudes to food. What I’m getting at is, collectively, we haven’t yet entirely forgotten that food isn’t a convenience. Food is part of our culture. A local food system is culture. We need to value that, not complain about it.
Being at that market yesterday was quietly very exciting. Six or seven years ago, I started to wonder where I could buy local food around here. I couldn’t find it easily and there wasn’t much of it. Through one thing and another, I find myself in the incredibly fortunate position where I know intimately not only where my food comes from, but the people who grew it or made it. I get to see first hand the trials and progress of these producers’ businesses and now I’m also witnessing the local food movement strengthening in neighbouring regions. All because I took an interest and that’s what I saw when I was at the market yesterday. People taking an interest.
The Bermagui Growers Market. The Bega SCPA Market. The Southern Harvest Farmers Market at Bungendore. A bit further north, the Kiama Farmers Market… and now, the Gaia Farmers Market at Ulladulla. This is what local food system restoration looks like.
But there’s still a long way to go.