Is there any better way to spend a Saturday morning than wandering around a farmers’ market buying freshly-picked fruits and vegetables? Or tasting specialty cheese, exotic jams and spreads, warm bread, freshly-squeezed apple juice or new season olive oil? Or going wild and trying a burger made out of some animal you’ve never heard of? Your health and nutrition aren’t the only things being fired up: farmers’ markets boost community spirit, forge links between city-siders and rural-dwellers and put money into the local community. You also buy in season, sustainable fruit and vegetables, often organic, and, as a bonus, get to soak up some fresh air and the convivial atmosphere.
What are the benefits of farmers’ markets
Farmers’ markets work to bring together communities. You have a space in the local area where people meet, shop and learn more about good nutrition. A local space becomes a humming bustle of shoppers and farmers chatting, neighbours catching up and children chomping on fresh food. When you see the luscious fresh fruit and vegetables, you can’t help buying seasonal and nutritious food.
It’s also a rare opportunity for a shopper to meet the person who makes the things they are buying. You can ask the farmer how the food was grown, if they used chemicals or pesticides or perhaps what they may have fed the chickens that laid the eggs before you.
Accredited farmers’ markets are plastic-bag free and so cut down on waste and packaging. It’s best to bring your own bags, preferably reusable. We shop sustainably by travelling a short distance to support local farmers rather than buying imported, out-of-season, high food mileage produce.
The markets also stimulate the local economy. In 2000, Friends of the Earth in the UK studied the economic benefits of farmers’ markets. The study found the markets benefit farmers, consumers, local communities and the environment. Local farmers are able to diversify their skills, get higher prices because the middle man is cut out and utilise another way to sell their goods. Consumers benefit from a strengthened community, healthy, fresher food, at fair prices and a fun friendly atmosphere. The local economy benefits when the money spent circulates longer, local businesses expand and secure jobs and local retailers find a knock-on effect on market days. The environment benefits because there are less food miles and packaging for fresh produce, and the markets emphasise sustainable food production.
Are farmers’ markets organic
Although the produce at farmers’ markets is not necessarily all certified organic, there is an emphasis on sustainable farming practices. Just be careful at unaccredited farmers’ markets where there are no rules and people can say their food is ‘organic’ or ‘free-range’ or even from a ‘farm’ when it is no such thing.
Sometimes when you talk to a farmer he or she will tell you their produce is chemical, GMO and pesticide free. If you ask why it hasn’t been certified organic they might say they can’t afford the organic certification process, or plain can’t be bothered. It’s nearly impossible for a person to stand in front of you and lie, so it’s up to you to ask the questions about the soil or about their sustainability practises. It’s also up to you to decide whether to buy the food or not and whether it is aligned with your values.
Accredited markets versus unaccredited markets
The main hiccup is finding a genuine farmers’ market. You don’t want to find a market that is just reselling food where the sellers haven’t grown or made the food themselves. In those cases, it’s just a case of asking a lot of questions before you buy to make sure you’re getting what you want. To really be sure your local farmers’ market is genuine, the Australian Farmers’ Market Association (AFMA) has a list of authentic farmers’ markets on their website.
If you live in Victoria, you’re very lucky because they are the only state in Australia to have an accreditation scheme. The Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association has a system where they accredit farmers’ markets to make sure they are authentic. This means that farmers have actually grown the food themselves. An accredited market sells mostly fresh fruit and vegetables in a public place at regular times (say every second Saturday of the month). An accredited market will not have people who are reselling or repackaging food, and isn’t the place for arts and crafts or bric-a-brac stalls. The focus is on making a place where locally grown food can be bought. Producers have to be accredited to join an accredited market, and they must have a minimum of 90 per cent of their stall stocked with their own-grown fruit and vegetables.
The safest way to know if food is from a local farm is to look for the accreditation certificates. Producers must show their certificates on their stall at each market. Regional markets have a little more leeway than city markets, and have the discretion to include more unaccredited stalls or arts and crafts or bric-a-brac stalls if they want to.
Still not sure? Why not find out where your local Farmer’s Market is and head down one Saturday or Sunday for a new experience. You may just find yourself walking away with more than a bag full of yummy foods as your senses are given a real treat having done your shopping in the fresh air and away from all the fluoro lights.
For more information:
- On the Australian Farmers’ Market Association website you can find the closest market to you throughout Australia in the ACT, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. Go to: www.farmersmarkets.org.au/markets
- You can find farmers’ markets in Victoria by region at the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association website. If the market is accredited, it is highlighted in blue. Go to: www.vicfarmersmarkets.org.au
- The Melbourne Community Farmers’ Market website gathers together all the news for upcoming accredited markets. You can sign up for their newsletter, follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook. Go to: www.mfm.com.au/
- Friends of the Earth in the UK researched the economic benefits of farmers’ markets. Their paper can be found at: www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/farmers_markets.pdf