Your guide to shopping at the farmers' market
The farmers’ market is a treasure trove of fresh, lovingly grown fruits and veggies. Jane Adams from the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association shares some tips for shopping with the seasons.
Illustrations: Rebecca Grant
There should be a vital ingredient on all our shopping lists – food with a face. In other words, healthy food lovingly nurtured by hard-working farmers, who regularly ferry their harvest to your nearest farmers’ market.
Think of freshly dug spuds, snap fresh asparagus, plump, juicy peaches, organic rice, extra virgin olive oil, succulent strawberries, creamy, ripe white mould cheese, golden yolk eggs, and whatever else the season delivers. Farmers’ markets offer a colourful bounty of fresh produce for you to explore and enjoy.
Farmers’ markets have boomed across Australia in the past 20 years, creating an exciting nutritious link in our food chain. There are about 200 authentic farmers’ markets trading regularly in all states, from Albany to Byron Bay, Mackay and beyond.
The farmers’ market paddock-to-plate offering is simple. You shop directly from the people who grow, fatten, catch or craft the food you buy, or their family or farm staff. It’s a direct transaction that should come with verbal guarantees of snap fresh quality, evocative farm stories and dollops of laconic country humour.
Eating seasonally not only supports the hard-working farm folk who put food on our dinner tables – it also brings you the joy of real flavour. Once you have eaten a tree-ripened, just-plucked peach on market morning, it’s hard to revert to the taste found in supermarkets.
Shopping in farmers’ markets is also friendly, communal and educational. Stallholders like to chat – about their farm, and how they grow the organic carrots and snow peas you just popped in your basket. As you browse the stalls, you can discover newish veggie varieties like cavalo nero (an Italian spear-shaped brassica) or kale (a big market seller) and heirloom tomato varieties. Kids can shop for their own food, taste it and choose what they want in next week’s school lunch box.
And yes, it’s healthy and good for the planet, especially if you have walked or ridden your bicycle to the market. Many farmers’ markets are ‘plastic bag free’ and offer boomerang bag-bank facilities. What’s more, Saturday morning coffees are often served in reborn op-shop mugs or BYO keep-cups. Sustainable living isn’t hard once you get the hang of it.
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Preparing for your market trip
All you need for your next market-shopping trip is:
A large basket, bags, a trolley or a backpack, because you will inevitably be tempted by the delicious fresh, seasonal, artisan food and buy more than you planned.
Cash, although stallholders selling olive oil, wine and more expensive foods will often accept ‘tap and go’ transactions, and many markets have portable ATMs.
Curiosity and wide smiles. To make sure you are getting the real deal, ask questions as you shop. Genuine stallholders will be happy to chat about their farm, their farming methods, what’s in season, the impact of drought and how to cook the produce you have selected. Looking at cartons is also a handy indicator, although many environmentally conscious farmers do recycle packaging.
Knowing your produce calendar also helps significantly. Remember that growing seasons can be extended for certain produce through hydroponics and the use of growing tunnels, but certain products like cherries and asparagus have specific and short seasons.
Ask yourself: can a veggie grower with a produce-packed stall possibly grow all those root vegetables, brassicas, leafy lettuces, herbs, carrots, tomatoes, eggplants, celery, beans, fennel, leeks… and bananas? Humble bananas are a good indicator of authenticity, for they require a semitropical climate and therefore shouldn’t be spotted in genuine southern state farmers’ markets. Ditto mangoes.
Now all you need is to seek out your nearest farmers’ market – and remember to thank those hard-working farmers for your next meal.
Find a farmers' market near you at farmersmarkets.org.au