What is a farmers’ market? Tara McGrath takes a tour and finds out about their attractions.
MORE than 30 years ago, Bruno Delgrosso was selling produce from his Red Hill orchard to some of the biggest names in groceries.
Then some of his friends at other orchards started to fall ill. One of them became paralysed and died within 18 months.
‘‘He told me it’s because of the chemicals we were spraying on the fruit. We’re sitting in the back of an open truck spraying these toxic chemicals,’’ Mr Delgrosso says.
Another friend was told to abandon his orchard to save his health, and it was then Mr Delgrosso decided he’d had enough of selling to the big guns in town and went organic.
The Delgrosso family are just some of many growers, makers and producers who have chosen a different route and now sell to their products directly at regular farmers’ markets. ‘‘The beauty of it is that you form relationships with the customers. Everyone is health conscious and wants to eat what is naturally grown.’’
Mr Delgrosso sells his produce at the Mulgrave Farmers’ Market every Sunday, sharing the stall-holding duties around with his family. Since 2009, the Mulgrave market has been running every Sunday morning and a proportion of stallholder fees and visitor donations goes to the Wise Foundation’s community projects. ‘‘We broke the mould by going weekly,’’ market manager Sue Brown says. ‘’It just makes sense — you eat weekly, you buy weekly and things grow weekly.’’
Although Mr Delgrosso is a direct seller of his produce, like many other farmers’ markets around town, the one at Mulgrave isn’t officially accredited by the Victorian Farmers’ Market Association.
‘‘Only 24 of about 90 markets in Victoria are officially accredited,’’ says Geoff Rankin, manager of the accredited Casey-Berwick Farmers’ Market. ‘‘Unaccredited markets can be very misleading. One of the producers might have just picked up their fruit and veg from the Footscray market that morning.’’
But Mulgrave farmers’ market manager Sue Brown says her market simply isn’t accredited because the VFMA doesn’t support the fund-raising initiatives in place at Mulgrave. ‘‘We’ve got business graduates from the Wise Foundation selling products, so we’re not purely food. We’ve agreed to disagree with the VFMA on this point.’’
The VFMA definition of a farmers’ market is one that has fresh produce or food predominantly sourced from local farms or producers.
‘‘We still encourage our stallholders to get accredited themselves,’’ Ms Brown says. ‘‘And we’ve got a pretty stringent entry level to get into the market.’’
Accredited or not, the popularity of farmers’ markets continues to endure right across the state, rain, hail or shine.
As the Mulgrave market celebrates its third birthday this month, demand is so strong in Berwick that, starting this week, the Farmers Market @ The Old Cheese Factory starts trading on the second Saturday of the month.
Mr Rankin started the monthly market in Berwick back in 2006 after local producers expressed a desire to see one established in the area. ‘‘The demand for a new market was there — you can’t buy vegies to last you a month,’’ he says.
Mr Rankin, a member of the Berwick Rotary Club, used his background in both farming and business to create a successful market that averages more than 1000 shoppers during trading.
Market organisers say customers enjoy the opportunity to talk to producers before buying and, in many cases, even taste test. ‘‘Customers can ask questions about how to cook a product and how to store it; questions they can’t ask when buying off the shelf.’’
Produce grower Mr Delgrosso also highlights another key point of difference for farmers’ markets.
‘‘At the Mulgrave market, we get a lot of people with allergies. They come along to the market to find out what actually goes in the product or to find out how we farm the produce.’’
Mr Rankin acknowledges that prices aren’t necessarily cheaper at farmers’ markets but says people want to support local farmers.‘‘Farmers’ markets are the prime income for these people. It allows them to sell retail and not wholesale, so they get better profit margins.’’
The food at farmers’ markets are freshly picked, keeping their whole nutritional value. Dandenong North resident Milos Marinkovic regularly shops at the Mulgrave Farmers Market for fresh produce and a Sunday breakfast and coffee. He says it’s both the service and quality of the food that ensures he returns to every week.
The 24 year old says his decision to start shopping for organic produce six months ago was due to a combination of reasons, including taking organic supplements and his mother being diagnosed with cancer.
‘‘I couldn’t look at supermarket food any more. I was motivated to put more time into selecting higher quality food.’’
But while the food may be delicious and nutritious, a friendly smile seems to seal the deal.
‘‘The service is just incredible. That attracts me the most, I think. Even though you’re not really away from society, it’s like a little village — they all know so much about what they’re selling.’’