Farmers’ markets deliver sweet reprieve from supermarket pressure
As the pressure supermarkets are placing on farmers continues to compound, more and more are turning to farmers’ markets to survive. Amy Rathbone reports
Supermarkets have given Australian farmers no choice but to find business elsewhere.
Increasingly, farmers are taking to farmers’ markets as Woolworths and Coles continue their price war making selling at supermarkets untenable.
“When you pick up a newspaper and read about issues related to retailing, whether it’s to do with the pricing of food or the labelling of food—all of these things, in essence, are a threat to Australian farmers,” says the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association’s (AFMA) Jane Adams.
The number of farmers’ markets has tripled in the last 10 years. They now have a strong presence in both rural and urban settings with roughly 160 nationwide.
“A farmers’ market is a place that nurtures farmers, so the farmers’ market environment becomes increasingly more important,” Adams says.
Cath Fiefia of Field to Feast vowed never to supply supermarkets after her friends lost money working for supermarket agents.
For Field to Feast, dealing with the bigwigs would be impractical. “They wouldn’t pay us a quarter of what we are asking for our hard work,” Fiefia says.
But for farmers and manufacturers who frequent markets, there is the question of why you would sell at supermarkets anyway. Having a store at a farmers’ market not only rewards the shopper, but farmers and manufacturers as well.
Rowie Dillon is a regular to the Pyrmont Growers’ Market where she sells 100 per cent gluten, wheat and yeast free cakes made locally at her Marrickville store.
Dillon believes markets educate shoppers about how things are grown and are a great chance to talk to farmers and manufacturers about how to get the most out of food products. Farmers get the added benefit of advertising and cheap market research.
“There’s no comparison [between supermarkets and farmers’ markets]. I’d much rather buy all my fresh produce from markets and then go to the supermarket for soap,” Dillon says.
In Australia, globalisation has led to monoculture and large companies controlling the way we seek and buy our food, as well as what we buy and where we buy it from.
The Slow Food movement was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of imported and fast foods, as well as the disappearance of local food traditions. The movement draws attention to food: where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
Farmers’ markets, such as the Pyrmont Growers’ Market, invariably fit into this scaffold.
Syd Pemberton is convivium leader of Slow Food Sydney. He says: “Slow food brings together pleasure and responsibility—good, fresh and flavoursome seasonal food that can be enjoyed by everyone; clean food that is produced in harmony with the environment and human health; fair accessible prices for consumers and, more importantly, fair conditions and pay for small-scale producers.”
He continues that although getting the right mix in farmers’ markets is not straightforward, Pyrmont and other markets “have a fair representation of genuine producers” and offer “a true view of what is in season and what is fresh and tasty.”
And these characteristics are transparent across many markets, as organisers continue to place restrictions on the food miles of products sold.
However, while limiting food miles reduces the environmental footprint of markets and ensures shoppers are supporting the local economy, market provedore Melinda Dimitriades argues that local doesn’t necessarily suit the Australian geography.
She says restricting food miles is a European invention. Because of the diverse microclimates that dominate Australia, shoppers need to choose between buying strictly local and the desire for choice and variety.
Fiefia similarly debates the concept of slow food and food miles. “For many Australians, the words “slow food” are a dream.”
Due to long work hours, especially in urban areas, where products are from and their quality is forgotten in pursuit of fast, simple and convenient food.
These days, supermarkets and farmers markets are almost polar opposites. Dimitriades suggests that the differences between the two are becoming more and more defined.
Still, for her and a bunch of Australians, there’s hope (and a strong belief) that farmers markets’ are “the way of the future.”
But Dimitriades says this won’t be the case if the rest of Australia doesn’t increase support for markets like the monthly Pyrmont Growers’ Market.
Read our review of the Pyrmont Growers’ Market