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Guest post: Farmers markets May 7, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Guest post, Vegetables.
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As I’m currently travelling overseas, I present to you a very special series of guest posts. This is the last in the series, and is by my friend Adelaide. It always amuses people when they find out we are friends, as Adelaide is a vegan and, well, I’m rather the opposite of that. While it’s true we have some fundamental differences in what we think is acceptable to eat as food, we are still friends and she is currently babysitting Fitzwilliam for me. Adelaide doesn’t have a blog but tweets as @lallylives, including about her love of farmers markets, as you will see below…

Hello, my name is Adelaide and I’m a market-holic.

There are many different ways this post could go – but, I have to confess, it’s not going to include recipes.

Not because it couldn’t (if you know me, you’ll also know that it’s fairly obvious that I’m good at the eating bit) but because I thought that it might interest you to look at the bit before the recipes – and that is the life of the urban hunter-gatherer.

Now, every corner seems to have a supermarket on it – all the big chains are well represented in our part of the world -but they’re soulless. I think I could negotiate around all of them half asleep – the marketing gurus at headquarters have decreed that sales are highest when the tinned chickpeas are always next to the bottled asparagus, and the crisps are almost always in the same order (and the dog food is next to the rat poison – which does rather epitomise the odd relationship the standard urbanite has with fauna) – and there’s no minimum wage shelf stacker that’s going to argue with that. I’ve walked into supermarkets in Europe, Asia and Australasia, and been able to find exactly what I needed in seconds through understanding the psychology of shopping. While it’s convenient, it’s boring…

So, the urbanite in search of a challenge has to look further afield than the obvious. For me, for the past year or so, this has paired up with my core belief that each consumer can make a difference by being aware of their power as expressed by where they decide to put their dollars. If I buy tinned tomatoes from Italy, I add food miles to my plate – and add to the possibility that local tomato growers and cannery workers – and the communities of which they are part – won’t be there for much longer.

But, for all that’s a good thing to do, there’s a whole lot of middle men between me and that tinned tomato. There’s the canning company, a freight company, the warehousing workers, the shopkeepers… and perhaps more than one of each. That seems like a lot of people – and while I’m happy I’m supporting local industry, it’s obvious that there’s a few cents being creamed off the amount that goes to the tomato farmer by every pair of hands that they pass through.

So, if I want to reduce the number of hands that fondle my fruit (stop sniggering in the back row), I need to get in touch with the producer. And luckily for the lazy urban hunter-gatherer, the farmers market is the perfect opportunity to meet producers without actually having to go to, well, the country.

Being quite the laziest of hunter gatherers, I’ve developed rather a fondness for farmers markets. There’s any number in Melbourne and nearby. There’s the trendy ones – Abbotsford Convent, Collingwood Children’s Farm, Gasworks, and Veg Out in St Kilda, where Tristan and Isolde can play on the grass in their organic cotton overalls while their parents swap stories about Montessori kindergartens, and the suburban ones, like Kingston, Boroondara and Casey-Berwick, where the silent green revolution of middle Australia carrying their rallying flags of reusable shopping bags swarms happily amongst the venison, buffalo mozzarella, sourdough and heirloom tomatoes. Further afield there’s Korumburra in Gippsland – potatoes and blueberries a speciality, along with banana jam – and Trentham – where along with fantastic produce, the canny ladies running the St Mary Magdalen op shop open up on market days as well. Lancefield market led me to squeeze three fruit trees into the back of the car (I really should plant them soon), and Mt Eliza gave me a musical experience I may never forget – ‘B-I-N-G-O was his name-o‘, sung uniquely to a mariachi guitar.

But it’s not just about the experiences, it’s about the food. There’s little that tastes better than fruit picked that morning, enormous pumpkins for stuffing, zucchinis so big and prolific that the stallholder gives you an extra one saying ‘take it, please – I’ve got so many’ and the freshly frothed coffee you drink while the buffalo bloke chats lovingly about mozzarella – and eight years of early market mornings, buffalo sausages and the rising tide of awareness of the richness of food possibilities for consumers.

It keeps you in touch with the seasons, too – this week the family we buy our stone fruit from is looking forward to no markets for a while as we go into winter – while the family we buy our winter fruit from is gearing up with their different varieties to try. Their teenage son – all gawky Adam’s apple, spots and a lankiness he’ll grow into – is transformed as he tells me that the pears will be beautifully ripe in a few days, and then confidently offers a sample of gala apple to another customer. One stallholder rushes across to pet our West Highland terrier – ‘I adore them – my two are at home’ she says – and we chat until she’s called back to discuss what she feeds her hens with a customer wanting to know details. We buy garlic – and when we say that we might try to grow it, the grower puts himself out of a job by picking good cloves for planting for us – and then gives us a five minute lesson in Essential Garlic Growing Tips.

I think that the original hunter-gatherers had it hard, walking long trails to find exactly the right water lily roots, fighting swarms of bees for their honey and needing to know exactly which of the twenty similar fungi was the one that didn’t have you seeing pink elephants for a week, or – more likely- poisoned you. While jumping in the car, driving to suburban parks, historic sites or country towns, chatting with producers and driving home with the boot bulging is hardly in the same league, there is a little, primitive part of me that knows that, although the only danger I face is Tristan or Isolde cannoning into me, or there being no home made black pudding left – maybe, just a little, farmers markets make sure this lazy hunter gatherer is getting closer to the earth.

You can find a list of Victorian Farmers Markets here, and the Victoria Farmers Markets Association here. Their newsletter is fantastic, and the market finder has inspired many day trips.

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