January/February – 2003
Story Title: The New Face of Old MacDonald – Part 2. Farmers’ Markets
by: CHRISTINE PAUL
In Part 1, CHRISTINE PAUL examined the re-emergence of Farmers’ Markets in the US with a case study of the Alberta Farmers’ Market in Canada. In Part 2, we look at Farmers’ Markets in the UK and Australia, where their popularity is also on the increase.
In this age of mass consumerism, designer labels, and hi-techsupermarkets, it is all too easy to opt for the pre-packaged, homogeneous and singularly non-descript items in a store, simply for the sake of convenience. However, there is a history, the world over, of Farmers’ Markets (or Growers’ Markets), pre-cursors to the sprawling Meccas of commercialisation as evidenced in today’s society.
In Part 1, we discussed not only this history, but how consumers worldwide are rediscovering the benefits of buying locally grown food direct from the producer. Farmers’ Markets, Mail Order Fruit, U-Pick, Home Delivery and E-Commerce are all examples of direct marketing which, while not a new concept to horticulture, is, nonetheless, re-emerging in terms of providing additional innovative solutions, offering the consumer choice and satisfaction.
Probably one of the driving factors behind this re-emergence has been concern about food safety. In his editorial, (PH&G – Issue 67), Steven Carruthers notes: “More and more people want to know where their food comes from, how it’s been grown – and they don’t mind travelling the extra distance or paying a premium price for freshness, quality, and to support local farmers.”
Farmers’ Markets are finding increasing favour with producers who view them as a welcome alternative to the growing domination of our food supply chain by supermarkets, where growers feel they are receiving less than their fair share.
Worldwide, the number of Farmers’ Markets is growing, signalling a shift in our economic system to one of decentralised marketing. The number of Farmers’ Markets in the US has risen dramatically, increasing 79% from 1994 to 2002. According to the National Farmers’ Markets Directory, there are now over 3,100 Farmers’ Markets operating in the US.
The modern Farmers’ Market, although an American idea, has now been enthusiastically embraced in Canada, the UK, and now in Australia.
Elsewhere, in China in 1985, following a series of botched political experiments, the government took a radical step – it withdrew entirely from its previous policy of trying to control production and distribution of non-staple crops, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. It dissolved the People’s Communes and allowed farmers to decide for themselves what was to grow, allowing the market to set prices. This was the beginning of the “free market” system, one which is still flourishing in China today, and which accounts for the cheap, fresh produce that is abundantly available throughout the country. Thus, the concept of ‘free markets’ or Farmers’ Markets has made a significant impact on both the Chinese economy and lifestyle.
In other parts of the world, the impact of Farmers’ Markets, though less dramatic than the Chinese example, holds considerable implications in terms of changes in the way we obtain our food.
Farmers’ markets in the UK
In the UK, as in other parts of Europe, Farmers’ Markets are still relatively new, although markets where farmers have sold their goods have been in continual existence in many parts of the country since medieval times.
In more recent times, British consumers, like many others in Europe, have been beset by food scares such as BSE (mad cow disease) with the result that they are now looking to ensure a safe, reliable food supply, turning in increasing numbers for its provision to Farmers’ Markets. As we have seen, the primary advantage of such a system is knowing where your food comes from. If consumers are concerned about issues of contamination, the use of chemicals, pesticides and the like, Farmers’ Markets present a much more viable option in terms of disseminating this type of information than does a multinational supermarket.
Many retailers in the UK, however, are polarised between those who encourage Farmer’s Markets, believing they help bring in new business, and those who want them banned because they think otherwise. Notwithstanding, Farmers’ Markets in the UK, and the rest of Europe, are revolutionising the way people buy and sell food. Many dozens are already in operation with more set to follow. Even the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain allows Farmers’ Markets in their car parks on certain days. An interesting spin-off for this particular supermarket chain has been a significant increase in turnover within their own stores on those days.
The growth in Farmers’ Markets in the UK is astounding. In March 1998, Bath Council’s Farmers’ Market was the lone market in Britain, and a great success. Since then, some 150 towns and cities have held or are holding Farmers’ Markets, with the overall number of British Farmers’ Markets having increased to around 380. As one leading agricultural writer comments: “The Farmers’ Market movement in the UK has proved to be one of the only agricultural success stories of the past few years’.
Nina Planck, an organiser of the London Farmers’ Market, grew up on a fruit and vegetable farm in Virginia, USA. The Plancks still sell their produce exclusively at 16 weekly Farmers’ Markets in Greater Washington DC. She explains why Farmers’ Markets are the answer in the UK to the farm crisis, environmental damage, the sympathy divide between town and country, and how the traditional food and farming business model in Europe and the UK is just not working.
“Despite its impressive yields, intensive agriculture harms the environment and concerns consumers,” she said. “Farm policy has direct and hidden costs: the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) swallows nearly half of the European Union (EU) budget, while import restrictions and ‘set-asides’ distort supply and prices. The National Consumer Council reckons the CAP costs the average family $28 per week in higher food prices and taxation. Food travels too far from farm to kitchen in too much packaging, polluting the environment and wasting energy. Less tangibly, the global farming and distribution system alienates us from the food we eat. Farming resembles a remote, high-tech industry more than gardening. How many people know where their food comes from, how it’s grown and when it’s in season?”
Planck also notes how the Green Revolution has not been an unqualified success for farmers themselves. Not only are farmers dependent on costly inputs such as fertiliser, hybrid seeds, pesticides and equipment, they are also victims of their very efficiencies. The price paid is over-production, falling food prices and rural job losses. Even as they move from crisis to crisis (BSE, floods and drought), farmers are vilified as backward and reliant on subsidies.
Planck’s solution is the implementation of Farmers’ Markets as a low-cost, local and tangible response to farmers’ woes and consumers’ worries. Reinforcing this stance, she points to the fact that in the past 25 years, Farmers’ Markets have burgeoned in the US, increasing the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, renewing urban neighbourhoods,and saving family farms with farmers selling more than $1 billion in fresh produce at 3,000 Farmers’ Markets annually.She quotes one encouraging US statistic, referring to the State of Massachusetts’ population,which numbers 6.1 million (smaller than London), yet supports 100 weekly Farmers’ Markets.
Most London Farmers’ Markets occur weekly on a public site, such as a car park or schoolyard, with four now situated in London at Islington, Camden Lock, Swiss Cottage, and Notting Hill.
Like the Alberta Farmers’ Market study in Canada (see PH&G Issue 67), some perceived advantages of Farmers’ Markets in the UK include: consumers and producers have direct contact;retail costs and costs to the environment are greatly reduced; and customers can see exactly what they are getting.
Currently, there is a great deal of interest in Farmers’ markets, from both agencies and groups wishing to establish them,as well as the public who are firmly committed in their favour.
Increasingly,the significance of these types of markets is being recognised by professionals working in fields as diverse as urban and rural regeneration, health,economic development, and the voluntary sector. Producers, too, see Farmers’ Markets as local, low cost retail outlets that provide them with an opportunity to avoid the strictures of the wholesaler, enabling direct access to the consumer.
An abundance of literature about Farmers’ Markets (in particular, Farmers’ Markets – The UK Potential), reflects the increasing interest in the topic across the country, while the Soil Association in the UK, as part of its Local Food Links initiative, has undertaken an in-depth study of the Farmers’ Market concept; one that is simple, yet, has far-reaching implications in terms of providing an effective solution to many social,economic and environmental problems.
Certification for UK Farmers’ Markets
The National Association of Farmers’ Markets (NAFM) in the UK was the first Farmers’ Market association formed outside the US. In June 2002, the association announced the development of a new national certification scheme for Farmers’ Markets. This was a move designed to ensure a dependable definition of a Farmers’ Market,and to prove assurance for consumers. Different types of grading criteria are being developed, which are aimed at helping markets work towards best practice. It is also envisaged that the grading system will reflect higher ratings in cases where the ingredients as well as the value-added component are local.The first three Farmers’ Markets to achieve certification under the new scheme were Haverfordwest,Orton,and Andover Farmers’ Markets.
NAFM Co-ordinator James Pavitt congratulated the recipients, saying:”Farmers’ Markets have become extremely popular over the past five years, and are providing around 10,000 local food producers with an exclusive venue for them to sell their own produce directly. However, the term ‘Farmers’ Market’ is not a legally recognised definition and a large number of Farmers’ Markets have expressed concern that it can be misused. Certified Farmers’ Markets are for local farmers, growers, bakers and brewers to sell their own produce directly to the public,” he said.
Criteria for Certification
The fundamental principles of the certification scheme are:
– Local product – only produce from a defined local area is eligible
– Own produce – all produce must be produced by stall-holder
– Principal producer – stalls must be attended by the principal producer, or representative directly involved in the production process.
– Policy and Information – information should be available to customers about the rules of the market and production method of producers.
So far, more than 40 markets have applied to the scheme, with 11 having successfully achieved certification. Certified markets are awarded a logo to help identify them,and are recognised as ‘Farmers’ Markets’ by partner organisations including the National Farmers’ Union and the Soil Association. Certification also has other objectives. It aims to provide markets with a template management system that can be used to link all traders with health and safety training.
Farmers’ markets In Australia
To date, the establishment of Farmers’ Markets in Australia has been slow in comparison to the US scene, however, numbers are increasing.NSW Farmers Association (NSWFA) Chief Executive, Jonathan McKeown,cites evidence from overseas suggesting that Farmers’ Markets will be every bit the successful phenomenon here as they have in the US where there has been a 64% growth since 1994.
“They’re producing US$880 million in revenue that wasn’t there before Farmers’ Markets,” he said. “In Australian terms, that’s $1.6 billion – and that’s significant!”
Mr McKeown, who recently visited markets in Europe, including the UK, is a firm advocate of Farmers’ Markets.
“Farmers’ Markets provide farmers, particularly those in horticultural, dairy and meat industries, with a couple of very powerful weapons …it enables them to provide customers with a quality product that’s fresh, because it hasn’t been in storage and so has superior flavour, and they gain economic benefit,” he said.
In a recent article from The Land, the writer relates the example of one Australian primary producer who has discovered the benefits of Farmers’ Markets for himself.
For Mark Taylor of Mandalong Lamb, growers’ markets at first seemed a handy outlet for meat cuts such as legs and forequarters that he couldn’t readily sell to restaurants. In the past two months, however, markets have not only become the main focus of his business, but the source of all his household food and a passion.
Taylor forecasts that we won’t see the demise of the super-market,but it (Farmers’ Markets) is a great alternative. “If I sell something to Mrs Jones, a six dollar sale can quickly turn into a $200 sale because she’s gone and told five people about the product,” he said.
One Australian expert on Farmers’ Markets is Jane Adams,a food writer, researcher and trainer, who undertook an extensive study tour in the US and now helps communities establish markets across Australia. When she first went to the US to study the phenomenon in 1998, there were no Farmers’ Markets in Australia.
“California in the 70’s is where it started – with the flower-power hippy movement,” she says.
According to Adams, Australian interest in Farmers’ Markets has snowballed to the point where we now have around 30 established markets with a dozen or more set to begin operation. From Sydney to Queensland, from Dubbo to South Gippsland, from Bathurst to Carnavon in north-west Australia, Farmers’ Markets are becoming an increasingly pivotal part of the food chain, and a key driver of economic development, especially in regional Australia.
Recognising this, Ms Adams was recently amongst a number of those instrumental in convening the inaugural Australasian Farmers’ Market Conference held at the Bathurst Memorial Centre between 21-23 November 2002. The aim of this critical industry forum was to disseminate a wide range of information concerning Farmers’ Markets to a number of key players, stakeholders and farmers.
“What we are seeing here is indicative of the support and popularity of the Farmers’ Market movement around Australia,” said Central Ranges Food and Wine Development representative, Kim Currie.
“This is a Real Food Revolution where consumers are driving the demand for farm fresh goods and home-made produce – the spinoffs for rural communities, in particular,will be very beneficial.”
Highlights of the conference included talks by international expert speakers who shared their knowledge, discussions on Best Practice Market Charters, and the establishment of a National Farmers’ Market Network. Participants were those working in community economic development,local government, town planning,tourism development, food marketing, agriculture, horticulture, farmers and food producers. Topics at the conference covered practical advice on: How to Start a Farmers’ Market; Networking Spinoffs, and Alternative Supply Chains, while a number of workshops focused on the specific needs of market operators and interested farmers and food producers.
According to Jane Adams’ research, setting up a Farmers’ Market does not require huge funding or any particular professional skills. However, she advises, people should take a realistic approach and not expect them to be exceptionally lucrative ventures. As in the case of other business enterprises, they are equally prone to economic fluctuations and market vagaries.
In another recent address to the Margaret River Regional Producers’ Association in Western Australia, Ms Adams championed the cause of Farmers’ Markets, encouraging the establishment of one in the local community. Ms Adams referred to Farmers’ Markets as being “much more than a grassroots trading system” and spoke of both the enthusiasm she has encountered since their inception as well as a certain degree of resistance.
“I was once told after a workshop that I was a ‘political subversive’,” she said. “While everybody is talking globalisation, I am preaching anti-globalisation.I am talking about making the local economy thrive, about food that is locally grown and locally consumed.”
Referring to the social component of Farmers’ Markets, she said that “people are becoming acutely aware that in this computer driven society, we are losing touch with each other.
“With a market, people go to the one place and they meet other people and they connect,” she said. “You only have to ask yourself why coffee shops are so prolific and popular. The number of single person homes is growing,” she added, “but people want to feel connected, to get a sense of belonging. Cafes do that,and so do Farmers’ Markets.” (For those communities interested in starting a Farmers’ Market in their area, Jane Adams runs workshops based on her Australian and international research and experience. Ph:(02) 9360-9380 or e-mail:email@example.com)
‘Fair grow’ for growers and consumers
In Victoria, farmers are drawing the battle lines against giant supermarket chains such as Coles and Safeway in preparation for a fight to achieve a bigger share of the fresh food dollar. Increasingly, they are banding together in collective bargaining groups to fight for higher prices at the farm gate. Citrus growers, for example, are frustrated that oranges for which they are paid 49 cents per kilogram, are being sold in supermarkets for up to $1.79. Sunraysia Citrus Growers chairman, Peter Crisp, says this type of situation is leading to concern amongst growers groups.
“The growers feel as though they don’t have the right to make a profit, but the supermarket does,” he said. “It really sticks in the guts of the growers.
– A Melbourne wholesaler recently commented that a consumer backlash appeared inevitable if the big chains abused their buying power.
“If the difference between what farmers are getting and what consumers are paying becomes too far apart, consumers and farmers will start getting together (at) Farmers’ Markets and places like that,” he warns.
At Flemington Market, the nerve centre of the NSW food supply network,137 wholesale agents handle 80% of Sydney’s fresh produce, worth around $6 billion a year. They provide the link between the grower and retailer. However, more and more growers are now selling directly to supermarkets, bypassing the traditional agent’s commission. Many growers believe a conflict of interest exists among agents,some of whom buy for the big chains.
The NSWFA is one of Flemington’s most vocal critics. According to spokesman, Mick Keogh, a grower consigns his produce to an agent, and some time later the agent will advise him of its value.
“It is very difficult for the grower to gain access to information and, of course, the produce is long gone by the time anything happens in terms of trying to redress a grievance.” Tired of watching agents and retailers making most of the money, farmers throughout Australia are loading up their trucks with produce and selling direct to the public. In an article in Sydney Business Review (Farmers’ Markets go up against food chains, 15/03/02), the NSWFA announced it was planning the first in a series of grower markets across the state, drawing produce from the association’s 13,000 members who were unhappy with the retail system. The venue for the first market was Warwick Farm Racecourse in Sydney. Under the scheme, produce can only be sold directly from farmers’ trucks “with the dirt still on it”, heralding a return to the days when sellers knew their products from the ground to the pot. The aim of these markets is to produce quality and competitive pricing.
“We are aware that consumers are not happy and quite obviously the farmers aren’t either,” said NSW Farmers Association President, Mal Peters. “Fresh produce that’s come straight out of the ground from the bloke who grew it will now go straight to the consumer without sitting on a wholesale shelf,” he said.
“It’s about making sure the consumers get a good product and the farmers get a realistic price. It wouldn’t be unrealistic for consumers to save 2%,” he added.
The rise of Farmers’ Market in Victoria has been a particularly meteoric one, mirroring global trends. Feature articles about Farmers’ Markets now appear with regular consistency in small, local newspapers, as well as large city broadsheets. A recent article in The Sunday Age (First in first served, 20/10/02) reports on the startup of two Victorian Farmers’ Markets – the inaugural Collingwood Children’s Farm in Melbourne, and the Cardinia Ranges Farmers’ Market in Pakenham, attracting around 3,000 people. Plans are underway to start another market in Balwyn in early 2003.
Markets such as these are bridging the gap between country and city as people become more knowledgeable about the process involved in getting a product from paddock to plate. Collingwood market organisers Peter Arnold and Miranda Sharp, a food writer and ex-caterer, believe this to be an important issue.
“People can learn what the process is to get that potato on your plate, to get that tomato that tastes like a tomato,” said Arnold. “The other beauty of these markets is that we educate people about what you can get at different times of the year.”
It is this seasonal factor that is causing consumers to re-think their shopping habits. In the case of Victorians, for example, it means enjoying what’s on offer at specific times of the year, not demanding year round supplies of bananas and pineapples and other tropically produced fruit and vegetables. Farmers’ Market teach consumers what’s in season and when.
“People are starting to understand that their apricots and pawpaws have travelled thousands of miles and have been frozen or gassed,” said Peter Arnold. “When they put them in their fruit bowl, they go brown within a week. The fruit that you get from a Farmers’ Market will last three weeks, and when you cut the apple, it’s not going to go brown in two hours”.
The price factor
With some exceptions, buying at Farmers’ Markets does not necessarily mean you are always going to pay less. Often, the reverse is true. However, most people realise that quality comes at a price and many people are prepared to pay for it. The difference is that you have some say in what you’re buying, and the farmer is getting a fairer go.
Farmers’ Markets offer the same benefits for growers of hydroponics produce. Hydroponic Farmers Federation Vice-President Anne Wilson believes that current supermarket shelf prices could deter potential customers from buying hydroponic produce. For hydroponic tomatoes sold in supermarkets for around $8 per kg, farmers are paid about $4.50.
“We have people who come to our farm gate who buy them at $4 per kilogram.They won’t go to a supermarket,” she said.
“The smaller producers are turning to restaurants, local markets and to the farm gates,” she added.
Sydney farmers’ market profile
Organic Market, Frenchs Forest
Farmers’ Market, Leichhardt
In Sydney, Elizabeth Taylor, husband Stephen and family, run the weekly Farmers’ Market at Leichhardt and the Organic Market at Frenchs Forest. At both markets, the emphasis is on organically grown fresh fruit,vegetables and flowers with a variety of stalls offering a mouth-watering selection of home baked goods, breads, organic meats, free range eggs, cheeses and other home-grown items, as well as a sprinkling of craft stalls. One of the first to seize on the idea of introducing markets to Australia, Elizabeth already had considerable experience in running markets in the UK.
“The concept of the markets was first born in London in the early 90’s,when I read an article on the ‘French Marche Biologique’ in the Independent Newspaper.Having read of the success of the French and American Farmers’ Markets, I thought: ‘Why not here in London?’ Soon, England had its very own Organic Farmers Market in the old fruit and veg market in Spitalfields, London. It was an immediate success and was quickly followed by another in one of the oldest market towns in England Altrincham, Cheshire.”
Shortly after the family’s arrival in Sydney in 1995, Elizabeth was surprised to find there were no established Farmers’ Markets and quickly set about creating the Organic Market, Sundays, in the grounds of the Parkway Hotel, Frenchs Forest.
The first of its type in Australia, the market focuses on organic produce and has grown into a sizeable venture, attracting farmers and consumers alike from far and wide. Recently, increasing demand has seen Elizabeth and Stephen establish another Farmers’ Market in Leichhardt, (Saturdays) to cater for inner city dwellers and south-siders seeking fresh,wholesome produce direct from the farmer, while a third weekday market is set to open soon at Hornsby Mall, Hornsby, in Sydney.
In her opinion, what are the reasons behind the re-emergence of Farmers’ Markets?
“In the UK particularly,they initially grew in popularity as a reaction to various food scares,” said Elizabeth. “People wanted to know that the food they were buying was safe for themselves and their families. On top of this,though,one of the main attractions for consumers is that they can buy fresh food direct from the farmer who grows or makes the produce. There’s a sense of sharing. Farmers themselves are able to reap profits directly without having to pay for advertising or marketing.”
Elizabeth also points to the social atmosphere at Farmers’ Markets,which is important for many customers, giving them a sense of camaraderie and community. “Recently, a customer had not been well but was delighted when she received a big hug and a bunch of flowers from one farmer selling home-grown flowers. That type of experience you just can’t get at supermarket chains,” observes Elizabeth.
Melbourne Farmers’ Market profile
Collingwood Children’s Farm
The Collingwood Children’s Farm, located at Abbotsford, is the perfect venue for Melbourne’s first Farmers’ Market. Providing a mixture of fresh and locally produced goods, the market has the same simple principles as any other Farmers’ Market. That is, that goods are grown or made by those who sell them,and that the quality of produce is of the utmost importance.The market promotes itself as saying:”The selection of produce will vary each market and those invited to attend will reflect the true seasons of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Enjoy the restoration of Melbourne’s once active market garden history with a trip to the farm. It’s right on the bike path, close to public transport and you can come for the shopping or make a day of it.”
Beyond Farmers’ Markets
It is worth mentioning in any discussion concerning Farmers’ Markets, the relatively recent development of Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). CSA goes one step further than traditional Farmers’ Markets in that consumers share in the risks of farming, hand-in-hand with the producer.A recent report by Lismore-based Friends of the Earth (FOTE) presents this radical new vision for sustainable agriculture in Australia.
The concept, though not new, is rapidly growing in the US, Europe and Japan. In the US, there are around 1,000 working CSA projects. CSA involves the creation of a direct relationship between farmers and consumers, helping to make small farms economically and environmentally sustainable, and helping consumers to reconnect with the source of their food. The FOTE report describes a vision of CSA where consumers purchase a share of the harvest upfront, thereby sharing the risks of food production with farmers.
Speaking at the launch, Dr Kristen Lyons, spokesperson for FOTE and lecturer in the Sociology of Food and Agriculture at Griffith University, said that in normal circumstances, farmers wear all the risks of production,so in times of drought, as we have at the moment, consumers are oblivious to the plight of the farmers who are struggling to survive.
“With Community Shared Agriculture, the people who benefit from the food also share the risks of production by paying a share of costs up-front, at the start of the growing season when the farmer needs it most.
“Any loss (or bounty) is shared equally by the people who benefit. By reconnecting people to the source of their food, and to the farmers who grow their food, CSAs can have a regenerative effect on both farming and urban communities alike,” concluded Dr Lyons.
The reasons behind the re-emergence of Farmers’ markets, and benefits, include:
– Shoppers can have confidence in the origins of goods and have access to fresh, local food.
– Shoppers can ask farmers directly about how it has been grown. Unlike large chains, Farmers’ Markets create an atmosphere conducive to the free exchange of information about the produce – customer service and the one-to-one approach are important considerations for the consumer.
– The farmer/retailer is usually responsive to consumer demands. It is common for farmers to plant new crops or change practices simply because shoppers request it.
– Farmers’ Markets provide an enjoyable social atmosphere,an important consideration for most shoppers. The social atmosphere of markets is a very important quality to both vendors and consumers. According to the Alberta Farmers’ Market study, approximately 50% of vendors sell at markets for enjoyment and recreation, and 44% of consumers visit markets for the social factor. This interesting aspect of markets suggests that consumers and vendors want to enhance the quality of their lives.
– Often, but not always, there is a reduced cost for produce compared to buying in supermarkets.
– There is no middleman. The farmer takes the full retail price; often three times the wholesale price. Unlike the lonely farm gate, customers are concentrated in time and space at markets: thousands of shoppers may pass by during a four- to six-hour market day.
– Small and medium-sized farms, which are most threatened by the rise in intensive agri-business, benefit because Farmers’ Markets absorb their uneven supply, unlike large distributors and supermarkets.
– Producers have the opportunity to gain valuable customer feedback, and counter public ignorance about agricultural issues.
– Many Farmers’ Markets offer a low-cost entry point for many farmers who have not sold direct before.
– Farmers’ Markets are good farm policy: They raise farm income without subsidy, and keep the countryside economically productive without recourse to tourism. Part-time and casual farmers become full-time, and family farms hire more workers.
– Packaging is minimal and transportation miles are dramatically reduced. Produce is less likely to languish in warehouses, so less is wasted. Although markets seldom require farmers to use environmentally friendly methods, consumers push growers in that direction.
– Naturally, the selection of goods available at a Farmers’ Market will vary with season and location, however, the emphasis is always on quality and freshness of produce, and the creation of a mutually beneficial environment for producer and consumer.
– Farmers’ markets revive market towns and run-down urban centres.
– Often, despite initial resistance, local shop owners find that markets increase their business turnover. Greater Washington DC (pop.3 million) supports more than two dozen weekly markets. There are more communities who want markets, than there are farmers to supply them.
Around the world, Farmers’ Markets are providing an alternative food source for the consumer in an economic system largely dominated by commercial food chains. For the small grower particularly, they can be a profitable venture,offering unique opportunities to raise profit margins by the direct sale of agricultural goods to the consumer.
In today’s increasingly technological society, and with an abundance of retailers providing our food source, Farmers’ Markets provide consumers with a welcome alternative shopping experience, an important factor underlying their re-emergence. We need only browse through the aisles of our local supermarket or shopping mall to realise that much of the rich diversity of shopping has vanished; replaced with an increasing homogeneity.
Prices are often lower at Farmers’ Markets, because there is no middleman; there is plenty of competition at each market, and overhead costs are low. Unlike the rest of the agriculture industry, it’s also a ‘free market system’. As we have already seen from the Chinese experience,when food supply and prices are not distorted by government interference,farmers grow the crops consumers want to buy,instead of those that are subsidised, and sell them at a price consumers will pay.
Finally, fresh, seasonal produce tastes better because it’s fresh. Supermarket produce is picked unripe,jostled by sorting machinery, stored, shipped, stored again, and artificially ripened. The average supermarket pear is stored for one to nine months. At Farmers’ Markets, eggs are two days old, not two weeks, and apples and spinach haven’t lost their Vitamin C and folic acid benefits.
Farmers’ Markets are not merely a middle class phenomenon. In neighbourhoods ill-served by supermarkets, they greatly improve access to fresh produce. The US runs two schemes to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by the poor and by women and children who are nutritionally at risk. Their turnover is not small. US statistics show the poor spend between $75 to $100 million a year in state-issued ‘food stamps’ at Farmers’ Markets. In 1998, the women and children’s scheme added $12 million to Farmers’ Market sales. Such policies improve public health and increase farm income without distorting food prices or supply.
Farmers’ Markets are a direct-marketing, value-added opportunity for agriculture. A recent report from the University of Ohio concludes that many producers are finding that, if they sell their products directly to consumers, it significantly increases their profits. Direct marketing does not require substantial capital investments or additional business development. It fits into the urban development trends now occurring world-wide,and consumer-demands for healthy food products.
About the Author
Christine Paul is a Sydney-based writer with specialist interests in the environment,traditional horticulture and alternative health issues.
(The Organic Federation of Australia is seeking to develop a comprehensive online list of Farmers’ Markets in Australia for the benefit of the organic industry. If you would like to add your market to the list,e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.)
Australian Farmers’ Markets
Frenchs Forest Organic Market
Grounds of Parkway Hotel
Frenchs Forest Road East, Frenchs Forest
Ph: (02) 9999-2227
Farmers’ Market (Sat 8am-1pm)
Orange Grove Public School
Perry Road, Balmain, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9999 2227
Farmers Market Fox Studios
(Wed 10am-5pm – Sat 10am-4pm)
Fox Studios Lang Road, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9383 4163
Northside Produce Market
(3rd Sat of each month 8am-12 pm)
Civic Centre Park
200 Miller Street, North Sydney
Ph: (02) 9922 2299
Good Living Growers Market
(1st Sat each month 7am-11am)
Pyrmont Bay Park, Pyrmont
Phone: (02) 9699 4100
(Sat 8am–12 noon)
(run by NSW Federation of Farmers)
Warwick Farm Racecourse
Governor Macquarie Drive
(off Hume Highway), Liverpool
Farmers’ Market Menangle
Every Sunday 9 am 0 4.00 pm) Phone:9660-3688
Mudgee – 1st Saturday of Month
Anglican Church, Market & Church Streets
2nd Saturday monthly.
3rd Saturday monthly.
4th Saturday monthly.
4th Saturday monthly.
Victoria Street, Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9320 5922
Closed Mon and Wed
Collingwood Farmers Markets
(2nd Sat each month 8am-1pm)
Collingwood Children’s Farm
St Heliers Street, Abbotsford
Ph: (03) 5664 0096
Farmers Fresh and Seafood Market
1st and 3rd Saturday of each month 3am – 3pm
Redcliffe Farmers Fresh and Seafood Market
Redcliffe Parade Redcliffe Phone:(07) 3846-4500
3rd Sunday of each month 3am – 3pm
Farmers & Friends
(Hydroponically and organically grown produce) Saturdays
Mudgeeradah & Marina Mirage Farmers’ Markets
Both held on the 1st % 3rd Saturdays of each month 9 am – 12 noon
Margaret River Farmers’ Market
1st Saturday am, closed over winter
Margaret River Tourist Bureau
Ph: (08 ) 9757 2911
Albany Farmers’ Market
Weekly, Saturday am
Albany Tourist Bureau
Ph: (08 ) 9841 1088
Carnarvon Farmers’ Market
May – December, Sat am
Carnarvon Tourist Bureau
Ph: (08 ) 9941 1146
Torrens Island Farmers’ Market
Torrens Island, Port Adelaide
Weekly, Sunday am
Port Adelaide Visitor Information
Ph: (08 ) 8447 4788 Ω
PH&G January/February 2003 / Issue 68