Once considered a rarity, Melbourne’s farmers markets are hitting their straps. There were just a handful of farmers markets in Victoria 10 years ago, but now there are more than 90. The Victorian Farmer’s Market Association has conservatively estimated customers spend $2 million per week on farmers market produce across the state.
Association president Miranda Sharp, who books stalls for markets at Collingwood Children’s Farm, Veg Out St Kilda, Gasworks in Albert Park and Slow Food in Abbotsford, is quick to point out the difference between accredited farmers markets and other markets.
Put simply, she says that authentic farmers markets are true to their name. That is, the produce comes directly from farmers. “The public definitely are becoming aware again and thinking about their food and the way that they source it and what they choose,” says Sharp.
The growth of farmers markets has almost been too rapid. With growth comes the challenges of growth, but it has also been an opportunity to distinguish real farmers markets from the others.
"It’s lovely and colourful and there’s gorgeous food and it feels good and it is good, but there’s also a really serious side. “
This doesn’t mean non-certified markets should be ignored. They have their purpose and most of them serve it extremely well, but when you buy a jar of quince paste from a genuine farmers market, you’re not just refining your pantry with organic, fresh food, you’re bypassing the middle-man and supporting those who make the produce.
“They introduce to people that there are more issues than just shopping locally, that interacting with people opens you eyes to the whole food industry and all the implications of shopping choices and what impact our spending has,” says Sharp.
A common theme with accredited markets is that they are run by community groups, so there is no management board taking any of the profit. The creation of Veg Out in St Kilda is a classic community-led success story.
When the old St Kilda lawn bowls club folded, a group of St Kilda residents ensured the vacant lot would not turn into a car park, and planted a community vegetable garden there instead. Buoyed by the remarkable response to the vegie plot, the group initiated a monthly farmers market, which has become a raging success. “Whether they’re in a suburb or country town, the market kind of takes on the character of the township and reflects the local residents, but also of course in the produce that’s for sale, because generally it’s as local as possible to the region,” Sharp explains.
The Gleadell Street market in Richmond is not an accredited farmers market, but it is an institution with 129 years of history behind it. Yarra Council Mayor Alison Clarke said the Gleadell Street market has not strayed from its focus on fresh produce since being established in 1839.
“I can’t recall a time when the viability of the market was threatened due to prolonged periods of low attendance,” she says. “We performed some head counts last July which indicated about 5000 people usually attend on Saturday mornings.
“Stallholders from all over Melbourne have been travelling to Richmond to sell there since early last century.” Most items are sold by professional stallholders who buy produce from wholesale markets, but there are some stallholders who grow the food themselves. That said, all sellers must adhere to strict council regulations on freshness and quality.
Some farmers markets to check out:
Where: Peanut Farm Oval, Chaucer Street, St Kilda
When: first Saturday of the month
Collingwood Children’s Farm
Where: St Heliers Street, Abbotsford
When: third Saturday of the month
Where: 21 Graham Street, Albert Park
When: third Saturday of the month
Boroondara Farmers Market
Where: Patterson Reserve, Auburn Road, Hawthorn East
When: third and fifth Saturday of the month
Casey Berwick Farmers Market
Where: The Old Cheese Factory, 34 Homestead Road, Berwick
When: fourth Saturday of the month
Gleadell Street Market
Where: Gleadell Street, Richmond
When: every Saturday except Easter Saturday, Anzac Day and two Saturdays over Christmas