'Good food has never come from factory farms, process lines, canteens, supermarkets and fast food chains. It still belongs to careful vegetable gardeners, painstaking cheese makers and dedicated chef-patrons, meeting in the bustling market-place.'
Food historian and author, Michael Symons, really hit the mark with that statement, don't you agree?
Call me quirky, but visiting a farmer's market gives me the same kind of heady buzz that happens when an RAAF Hornet roars by overhead. It's kind of wild and exciting — the combination of noise, colour, atmosphere and aromas, all teasing the senses at once. Peter and I can easily spend hours wandering around a market, simply grazing, chatting with growers and producers, and filling our trolley with goods for the coming week. I really can't say the same for the supermarket!
One of the best farmer's markets in Australia, the Capital Region Farmers Market (CRFM) in Canberra is celebrating ten very successful years in operation this year and will kick off celebrations with a huge Family Fun Day and birthday party on Saturday, 1 March.
The Market was 'born' in 2003 from an idea by a couple of members of the Rotary Club of Hall. Previous farmers market projects in Canberra had failed, but the 'timing seemed to be just right'. Drought had put an emphasis on the plight of Canberra and region farmers. Wholesale arrangements were 'inadequate', and farmers weren't able to sell through commercial means. At the same time, several small producers had just commenced operations and needed a good outlet.
The very first Capital Region Farmers Market was held in March 2004 and was established without any financial support or grants from governments or other sources. It started with just 18 stalls and around 1,000 customers. Now the Market has almost 200 registered stallholders, hosting 100 stalls and welcomes more than 5,000 customers each week. The Market is still managed by the not-for-profit Rotary Club of Hall.
I consulted a handful of stall holders and asked if they would kindly share their thoughts on the Capital Region Farmers Market:
Sam and Claire Johnson from Boxgum Grazing near Young in New South Wales said: 'Firstly it's a great way of bringing together producers who want to sell direct to the consumer, with consumers that want to buy direct from the producer. So, instead of us having to build a consumer base ourselves, we can come along to the Market and be face-to-face with several thousand people who are looking to buy from producers such as ourselves. It's fantastic, and we're not sure everyone appreciates what a great act of facilitation is done on their behalf. We sold direct to consumers before there were farmer's markets and it was a lot harder to find a customer base and deliver the produce. Also, from the consumer's point of view, they are able to shop from a huge variety of producers across most food categories in the one place. So, the convenience factor is also great, a bit like a SUPER market of fresh food. Secondly, we love the energy of the place and the amazing transformation that takes place as the big empty shed becomes a hive of activity in a matter of hours. We also love the quality and variety of produce you can get in the one place and the fact there is healthy competition between producers so the standard is kept high. Finally, as producers and people interested in the many issues around food production and consumption, it's wonderful to be able to talk directly with the people who are using your products, to get their feedback and answer questions. It inspires us to continue trying to improve what we do.'
Canberra's ice cream alchemist, John Marshall, a.k.a. 'Frugii' has been attending the Market for over three years. 'We feel that being a stall holder at the Market is like joining a rather large family. Everyone is very helpful and respectful of each other. Most, if not all stall holders are extremely proud of what they produce and sell. A lot of customers get up at the crack of dawn to buy their produce, these guys are more than committed. They truly understand what the farmer's markets are all about. What we really love about the Market is ‘the buzz’ that you get when the markets are laden full of all the fresh fruit, vegetables and all other produce. Frugii are proud to be part of the CRFM family.'
Beekeepers and award-winning honey producers, Todd and Carmen from the award-winning Honey Delight and Canberra Urban Honey in Canberra, said 'We've been going to the Market for seven years and go because we love to share our beekeeping world with the people of Canberra. We love the atmosphere and the people and always say the Market has buzz! Honestly it does have a great community vibe.'
Director of the CRFM, Vic Gibbons, says 'We’re so excited to be celebrating our tenth birthday. It’s because of the support we get from our visitors each week that we can continue to operate our fabulous Market. To celebrate our birthday, we’d love to invite everyone from Canberra and the region to join in our special Family Fun Day and birthday party. On Saturday 1 March, visitors to the Market can enjoy a real family day out with a teddy bear’s picnic, a jumping castle and glitter tattooists from The Gecko Gang, live music from Zambezi Sounds, a patting paddock where children can meet the animals, talk to the farmers and find out where their food and fibres come from, and of course a huge birthday cake! There will also be 100 Capital Region Farmers Market goodie bags up for grabs. And, as it’s the first Saturday of the month, the Market’s resident 'forchefs' will be on site with their cooking demonstrations using fresh Market produce. Ten stallholders who have been with the Market since day one will also be presented with certificates as long standing participants, and of course there will be all the usual fresh fruit, vegies and yummy produce that the Capital Region Farmers Market has become so well known and loved for.
The party is only one of many great things planned for the Market’s tenth year celebrations. 'From humble beginnings we’ve come a long way to where we are today as Canberra’s original, biggest and best farmer's market. This year is going to be a huge one for us, and we can’t wait to kick off the birthday celebrations.'
The Family Fun Day and birthday party will be held on Saturday, 1 March during normal Market opening hours from 7.30–11.30am, at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC). Entry is free. For more information visit the web site.
And, given the season, a favourite apple recipe...
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
4 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples
light oil for frying
caster sugar for dusting
To prepare the batter, combine the flour, sugar and eggs in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Peel and carefully core the apples. Slice into thin (5mm) rings. Heat the oil (you will need enough oil to come up to approx. 1.5 cm in the fry pan). Working quickly, dip the slices of apple in the batter mixture and fry in hot oil until golden, turning if necessary. Drain well on paper towelling, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy shopping at farmer's markets as much as I do? Which are the best markets in your part of the world?
I'm Liz, a.k.a Bizzy Lizzy,
the writer, cook and traveller behind
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and chefs, and news on food and cooking.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.