Where apples are apples

With Chardonnay in hand the who’s who of the culinary world applauded the finalists of the 2017 delicious. Produce Awards in Melbourne’s QT Hotel early last month.

They also cheered the four national finalists for the Best Farmers’ Market, and among them was our own Willunga crew. Well done. The other three from Albany, Moruya and the eventual winner Launceston must have also been, dare we say, bloody good.

There are countless farmers’ markets all over the world that in their own special way deliver a unique sense of excitement and embrace a community; like the forum of Trajan during the Roman Empire which can be still seen today.

What sets the Willunga Farmers’ Market apart from most to which we are accustomed is that it has reversed the food chain – profit is being poured into young farmers so they can deliver even higher quality produce, and more.

It represents an amazing turnaround from when this market started 15 years ago with a few cars pulling up on the curb, opening their car boot and selling spuds and beans. This winter there were 55 stalls; spring is here so it will soon exceed 80 including two first-time stall holders, selling seafood from Kangaroo Island and pork pies from Victor Harbor.

Along this journey volunteers have earned their plaudits, and now we have Jenni Mitton, who since February has been employed as general manager.

We also have a well-organised and incredibly enthusiastic committee that has reconnected with the community, stallholders and especially the producers.

With a marvellous sense of vision, the Willunga Farmers’ Market entered a partnership with the Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board involving sponsoring a new farmer.

The first recipient is Michael Taylor, who started his business, Primordia Mushrooms, to produce exotic mushroom varieties. He received a $15,000 grant including $12,000 cash to help start up his business, a free stall at the Willunga Farmers’ Market for the first six months, a guaranteed licence to trade here for two years, and mentoring to the value of $3000 to assist in other business areas like bookkeeping or account management, marketing, and gaining actual farming knowledge.

Another wonderful story of support relates to The Village Greens, from Willunga Creek, a stallholder that had applied three times without success.

Jenni said how this business forged on at their farm growing produce and trading at the market. “It was an outstanding new application, and what they want to do is to further develop because they continuously sell out of everything,” she said.

“They are supporting the restaurant trade; they’re doing produce boxes which is really something that we would love to offer for people who perhaps don’t have time to navigate all of the stalls here. People may be travelling from the city and call in on the way to Goolwa to pick up their box filled with fresh produce or treats like a good bottle of wine, olive oil and so on.

“We are helping them with an expanded greenhouse. There is a lack in this area year-round when it comes to growing tomatoes, I mean real tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers and so on.

“We gave The Village Greens $10K, and the Natural Resource Management Board was so impressed with what they are doing they matched the grant.

“This small business is now developing an advanced greenhouse to enable it to grow a lot more produce to offer to the whole community. It’s just fantastic. Local food in local restaurants is so important for the tourism industry. They will also get another $2K grant for mentoring as well to learn this special these grafting technique

“The Willunga Farmers’ Market is just that; it’s about farmers, and it’s putting the money we make from the market back into farming.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more of this? We need to understand that the farmers who received grants are in their mid-30s. The average age of Australian farmer is 60 so it is really important to support this next generation.”

Jenni juggles the Saturday morning market around the every-day life of parenting, with her husband John taking their three kids to sport, including eight-year-old Dylan, who on this particular morning was anxiously getting ready to play in the mini-league team for South Adelaide. This is also where Jenni gets her reality checks.

“The children are the first to identify what food comes from a supermarket or from our farmers’ market,” she said. “They’re telling me you can’t compare apples with apples.

“My children used to say, ‘oh no, dad has bought apples at the supermarket; they’re rubbish’. We have stallholders here who once grew for – and went through – distributors, and so on. They have worked so hard, and at the end of they day they must ask themselves, for what? An apple might cost you a dollar at both the market and the supermarket, but just how much does the grower get from the supermarket? Apples ain’t always apples.

“We do audits to make sure that if stall holders say their produce is local then it really must be local. There must be that authenticity. It also helps us learn more about their business and together developing ideas how to best promote them.”

Jenni believes this market has a life of its own on a Saturday morning. “You come down in the early hours and there is nothing here; it’s pitch black, and then it slowly comes alive with all of this amazing activity,” she says.

“There is a wonderful connection, especially the shoppers who come together to meet and chat. Some enjoy a great breakfast; others just talk over a fresh coffee.

“The relationship between the stallholders and the shoppers is also very special; there is a first-name basis. No one is rushing by and grabbing a bag of carrots or whatever, it’s just one big crazy, beautiful haze.

“There are the buskers and the special demonstrations like how to grow or your own garlic. We have a community stall where we give groups the opportunity to promote themselves or do fundraising. Today it’s the local tennis club talking about the opportunities to get involved in the sport and their club.

“We’ve had the local CFS and so on. It’s all about connecting with the community and being the link to local producers.

“We have an ever-growing membership ($45 a year) which gives people 10 per cent off everything at the stalls, and now that extends to some shops in High Street on market days.

“The comfort comes when people walk up with a smile and buy their produce that was picked 5km down the road opposed to buying an apple or whatever from anywhere and not knowing how long it has sat in the cool room. It’s also what gets me here early on a Saturday morning.”

There is irony in the fact receiving a grant from the Willunga Farmers’ Market, a not-for-profit organisation, is worth so much more than a trophy from delicious., a national magazine. But that’s another story.