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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Growers Markets, Food Elitism and The Little Man

This is my second year selling my excess produce at market and I have a few observations.

I have a very ordinary suburban backyard. So ordinary in fact that many people are disappointed  and experience feelings of anticlimax when they see how average it all is. Truth is we make good use of our space and it is testament that nearly every yard can be sustaining.
We grow without chemicals, have done for at least 20years. I don't even bother with Pyrethrum sprays anymore. I find keeping things in balance so that the whole system works together are far more conducive and economical. Insects and bugs are good for your garden and are pollinators too. Everything is part of somebody else's food chain, even fungi, so you don't want to be eradicating anything
The growers market at Perth (Tas) held in the beautiful gardens of ut si cafe. It is a converted old Anglican church with an edible landscape and a creative and energetic team of passionate people. The growers market is a result of one of the owners, Colette, trying to embody all her passions into one living space. She is passionate about food, people, the seasons, community, ethical meat production and organics.
She does not charge any fees for stall holders.
The cafe is simply trying to be the facilitator that brings a community together to access local food free from chemicals. Food grown in the season and with minimal oil miles.
This allows excess garden produce to be shared with others and for people to network together and meet and chat at market like the old days. 
Simple conversations birth new recipes and growing tips between growers and buyers.
Food at it's most basic and best.
Many times I have added up several items that someone has bought and said $4.50 and people are stunned at the price and expect it to be dearer. It's simple though; it's local, fresh and comes with low overheads.
It is a big curve of education though, I have people coming down to the market wanting to buy basil in early spring when frost is still on the ground and though there is about 5-6 other varieties of herbs flourishing, they still want to be able to buy a summer herb out of season.
It has taken a couple of years but I am gradually seeing more locals coming to get fresh produce now realising that it isn't an elitist "foodie-fad" market but a place to get something to put in the pot for dinner.

A lot of people pay lip service to the idea of growers markets and fresh, local organic food but at the end of the day they are not well patronised by these same people. One reason is because they would really rather just buy everything at a supermarket; newspapers, toiletries, meat, vegetables, baked goods, hardware....even petrol. And there are a lot of closed newsagents and butchers etc to attest to that.
The other reason is that people lack imagination and skill. A lot of people find it impossible to look at a selection of 5 or 6 seasonal ingredients and come up with a couple of different meals. Many people have lost the art of cooking with fresh herbs too. 

So a couple of us battle on trying to encourage other growers to bring their excess to market to provide greater quantities and choice for people. I see food falling off trees in people's yards and when I suggest they bring it to the market, they say "I wouldn't have enough".
What is enough? Is it better that food should rot on the ground rather than be distributed within the community. So what if you sell out in an hour? The money you make from the plums can be used to buy fresh peas and rhubarb from someone else. Everyone goes home richer, mostly in spirit.
And now a new challenge. 
A Farmer's Market starting in the bigger town where an average stall costs $50. If you charge a premium to sell then prices have to reflect that to cover costs. To charge more, food has to be seen as more. This is when fresh and local becomes boutique and commercial. Simple backyard growers are in another league entirely but there does need to be somewhere for the small commercial growers to showcase their goods.
 I am an absolute champion of struggling small businesses and small growers but I hate being deliberately ripped off and I have been recently- BIG TIME! I use the words "heritage" and "heirloom" to describe and inform, not to jack up the prices. 

Someone related an interesting story the other day;
"I put a perfectly good fridge on the footpath with a sign on the front 'give away', and there it sat. After a time I changed the sign to 'For Sale $100'. Do you know that fridge was 'stolen' within minutes"
It is a shame that it is only the things with a significant dollar value that makes us perceive real value.

At the end of the day a Green Zebra is still a tomato and a Purple Sapphire is still a potato. 
But then maybe it is my perceptions that are skewed. I've been accused more then once of being too cheap!
Do you support your local growers?
Do you think your local markets represent value for money?
Or do you think food has just gained too much wank-factor?
Do you make the extra effort to buy from specialist individuals, like butchers and newsagents and growers?
More importantly....
Do you have excess in your garden and would you like to spend  a gorgeous Saturday morning meeting a few real people and swapping some recipes?
See you at ut si Saturdays, 8-12.

This is an Alan Jackson song I like called
"The Little Man"


  1. Oh Tanya I could not believe what you said - people have an anticlimax o your garden. Oh my it INSPIRED ME even MORE! It made me see I can REALLY do it with my little land. It was so lush. I wished it was just me there and I would have drunk rhubarb cordial and wondered admiring it all!!! INSPIRED ME I said!!!!!

    On the other note. I would really like to sell me excess - or what little I do have but then I am able to freeze/jam/pickle/etc etc it for my family. By the time I collect it all, set up at the local farmers market and sell it - all monies would have gone to the stall fee - not worth it and my family miss out on me...

    Maybe one day when it is LUSH like your inspiring garden and boys have left home I will be having a stall of my excess - but most likely the excess will end up in my boys kitchens!!!

  2. Great post, I shared it on my FB page, hope that's OK! What we don't grow, we buy from a local farmers market outlet, where we get eggs, dairy and meat too. They source all their fresh produce from their own farm, local farms, or from the Sydney markets. It is clearly labelled, and such good value. Whilst the farmers markets are great, we find this farmers outlet store has the convenience and the values we like.

    I like what you are doing in Perth, and whilst I don't have the time at the moment if there was something like that over here, we happily give our excess away, and would take it to OzHarvest or similiar if we ended up with that much of an abundance!

  3. Great post Tanya.
    I always support small business, it just feels right to me.

  4. In the area where I live I don't have the option of shopping small businesses as all have been replaced by chain stores. There is a farmers market that is set up once a week in the parking lot of a nearby Whole Foods store during the summer months and a Saturday market where there's a fee for the stalls and prices are somewhat higher. Even the road side stands have becoming harder to find.

  5. This is a great post. How lovely of Collette not to charge fees for the stall holders which must surely attract more folks to set up stall.

    I'll have to ask or I'll be pondering all day - what exactly is the wank- factor?

  6. If it wasn't for the weather I would pack up and move this family to Tasmania so that I could share this community experiences with you. I'm certainly going to be on the look out for such an opportunity here in Perth (WA!)
    And yes... sometimes "boutique" does stink of "ripped off".

  7. Hey Tanya a great post, lots of relevant points........

    Have just visited a farmers market in Beechworth and bought a few things.
    It's nice to be able to support local growers where you can but stall fees can be expensive, it's very generous of Colette not to charge anything.
    Your stall photos are lovely, I can tell you take great pleasure in arranging and displaying your produce.
    It's nice to know that an average suburban backyard can produce so much. People forget how their parents or grandparents used to have a vegie garden and how much it actually supplied. It's a shame more folk don't
    grow their own veg.

    It hasn't been the best growing season this year, but we are still managing to eat from it on a regular basis.
    A cloudy day here with the possibility of rain tomorrow.....

    Have a great weekend,

    Claire :}

  8. Wish I lived nearby to come and shop. I would also like to sell some of our extras from the garden but run in to some of the same problems. I definitely think I will be doing more bartering this year. Trading eggs for butter,etc. Itching to get started, but our growing season won't begin for another couple of months. Although I am experimenting with growing sproutings and greens inside.


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