Farmers' markets buying guide

Should you trade in your supermarket trolley for food straight off the farm?
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:13 Feb 2008
 

01 .Introduction

Farmer in front of market stall

In brief

  • Farmers’ markets can give you great seasonal fresh produce, with the opportunity to connect with the people who grew it.
  • Not all food markets are farmers’ markets: there are clear criteria for best practice.
  • Markets aren’t all created equal. Just because they have tents, trestles and fresh produce doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being offered anything different from your local mall. 

A local market is a great way to spend a leisurely weekend morning browsing for fresh produce and gourmet goodies, and a farmers’ market sounds doubly appealing — a real connection to where the food comes from and how it’s produced. But how sure are you that farmers and producers are the ones getting your custom?

In this report we take a look at what kind of farmers' markets are available, how they operate, and what constitutes best practice. We also give a list of the Pick of the crop - markets which the Australian Farmers' Market Association (AFMA) consider to be best practice.

Please note: this information was current as of February 2008 but is still a useful guide today.


What is a farmers’ market?

There’s no legislation defining farmers' markets in Australia — each market has its own charter which sets out what the market allows and doesn’t. But AFMA has developed best-practice criteria for authentic farmers' markets (see Best practice guidelines).

A farmers’ market brings farmers and producers directly to shoppers, cutting out the middlemen. The person selling at the market should have a direct link with the farm — either the farmer, a family member or someone who works on the farm. As a consumer, you get to buy produce that’s often only picked hours before, and a direct link to where and how it was grown.

Farmers’ markets also promote more unusual produce such as varieties that might not be widely available in supermarkets and value-added products (like jams or pies made from farm produce) from small traditional-style suppliers that you won’t easily find elsewhere.

So as well as spending a pleasant time browsing and shopping at a market, a farmers’ market means you’re getting a very different experience from shopping at your local shopping mall. 

Benefits to growers

Apples on a market stallYou’re not alone if you’re becoming increasingly interested in the welfare of farmers and the long-term viability of Australian farms in the face of drought and globalisation. A well-run farmers’ market can give farmers direct access to consumers who’ll pay a fair price for their produce – it won’t necessarily be cheaper than elsewhere.

It also lets them hear directly from consumers about what’s important to them and what they value about the produce they buy. For many small farmers, their success at a big city farmers’ market has spelt the difference between a viable farming business and oblivion.

And for larger-scale farmers, a regional farmers’ market is a way to supplement other income, as well as an important business and community networking opportunity.

 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 

Carrots on a market stallIf asked to name a market, people in Melbourne might instantly think of Queen Victoria Market. In Adelaide, Central Market is likely to be top-of-mind, and in Sydney, many would likely nominate Paddy’s or Flemington.

How do these and the other smaller local markets held in the schoolyards and open spaces of our suburbs and towns differ from farmers’ markets?

Wholesale produce markets

Markets like Adelaide Produce Market, Brisbane Markets, Melbourne Markets, Newcastle Markets, Market City (south of Perth) and Sydney Produce Market (popularly known as Flemington) are all examples of wholesale produce markets. Only Sydney Produce Market also sells to the public (though generally in bulk) . The stallholders at these markets are not the growers themselves, they’re largely wholesale middlemen onselling to retailers.

Large retail markets

Think Paddy’s Markets in Sydney, Central Market in Adelaide, Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. These aren’t farmers' markets — the produce at these markets is mainly sold by a mix of retailers, though depending on the market, you may also find some growers there. Some also sell crafts, homewares, DVDs and so on (something most true-to-concept farmers’ markets don’t allow).

Smaller local mixed-goods markets

Local markets that often sell some fresh produce, but also craft, clothes or other items; they’re often run by local councils or community groups. These markets don’t require stallholders to be farmers — they can include resellers, who may have bought their goods from the central markets, or indeed anywhere else. There may be some growers stalls there, but the markets are not farmers’ markets.

Organic produce markets

These markets may include growers, but it’s not necessarily part of the deal. Because of the challenge of sourcing a wide range of organic produce throughout the year, these markets often also allow organic resellers (as well as other things like crafts and alternative therapies), so if the provenance of the food is important to you, ask who grew it and where the stallholder sourced it. Also, as always, look for 'certified organic' labels — it’s your best guarantee of true organic practices.

How to spot a farmers’ market

There’s currently no accreditation system in place here for farmers’ markets, unlike in the UK and US , and until some funding is available, national or even widespread accreditation and auditing of markets and vendors are a long way off.

In Victoria, however, some progress is being made. The Victorian Government has provided the Victorian Farmers' Market Association with some funding and work has started on developing an accreditation system there.

The Australian Farmers’ Markets Association (AFMA) says one of the best protections consumers have now is that genuine farmers’ market stallholders quickly report neighbouring stallholders with dodgy practices to the market manager — and this tends to keep stallholders honest. But the market manager’s decision about the allowed practices is only as good as the market’s charter — what does it allow and what does it prohibit?

Your best protection is to enter into a discussion with stallholders and get a feel for their knowledge and relationship with the foods they’re selling.

Questions to ask at the markets

  • What’s the market called? Unfortunately the presence of the words farmer, grower or producer in the name of a market, while a guide, doesn’t necessarily mean the market would satisfy AFMA’s standards, for example .
  • What’s on offer? Are there craft stalls, bric-a-brac or clothing? True farmers’ markets stick just to produce (including flowers) and things made from it, such as preserves, cheeses and bread, and perhaps other things that relate to growing food, such as seeds, plants and animal feed or fertiliser.
  • Is it in season? Farmers’ markets sell seasonal, fresh produce, so brussels sprouts in the middle of summer and tomatoes in the middle of winter are an obvious clue. Be sure to ask the stallholder where they came from. And keep in mind that the produce on offer can be either conventional or organic.
  • How far has it come? Not all farmers’ markets have rules about how ‘local’ produce must be, but many of the regional ones do — they’re showcases for their region’s food. In cities, where much of the food has to be carted in from somewhere else, the rules can be less strict. But if you see Northern Territory mangoes or far north Queensland bananas in a Melbourne, or Sydney market, for example, ask a few questions — you may decide you don’t want to embrace the food miles they represent.
  • Does the stallholder have a clue? You should be able to get convincing answers to questions about where the produce came from, how it was grown, when it was picked and what the stallholder does on the farm — not to mention have a helpful discussion on how you might turn it into dinner tonight. If it’s value-added produce, like jam or flavoured oil, the stallholder should be able to clearly tell you which ingredients they grow and which they buy.

The Australian Farmers’ Markets Association (AFMA) encourages and assists farmers’ markets throughout Australia to establish charters and best-practice standards that reflect the criteria advocated by the association.

AFMA is not a membership organisation — farmers’ markets don’t have to join. It consists of a group of people who volunteer their time to exchange information, coordinate policy, and promote grower-centric farmers' markets across Australia.

AFMA does not accredit markets or stallholders, although the Victorian association has recently received government funding and is now working towards an accreditation system in Victoria.

CHOICE would like to see a review of the industry and a clear and consistent national scheme to ensure consumers who want to buy directly from the farmers can be sure they are doing just that.

AFMA considers many markets to be well founded farmers’ markets, and lists these in its publication Guide to Farmers’ Markets Australia and New Zealand 2007. However, not all markets make AFMA's 'Pick-of-the-crop' list, which is reserved for those AFMA feels most closely reflect best-practice principles. See Pick of the crop for a list of many that do.

Best-practice guidelines

Fruit and veg market stallFarmers’ markets vary in how tightly they adhere to the guiding principles defined by the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association (AFMA), but the main elements are:

  • They bring fresh food and produce directly to the public.
  • The traders are intimately involved in growing the food, either as the farmer, their family, or a farm worker. Not all farmers are men, but as one researcher told CHOICE, it’s often the farmer’s wife who comes to the market — and they are not there so much for the money as for the social contact and positive feedback — it gives isolated farm life another dimension.
  • Only food and food products are included. You shouldn’t find crafts or clothes, for example, though you may find stalls selling things that relate to growing food, such as seeds, plants, flowers and animal feed or fertiliser.
  • Value-added food products are included, though the rules about what can be sold vary. For example, some farmers’ markets might permit a stall selling flavoured oils where the flavourings were sourced by the stallholder, who made them from produce of their local farm community, but the oil itself is Spanish. Other markets with a more stringent philosophy would insist that the oil was also from the producer’s local area (or perhaps even from their own farm).

For more information visit the AFMA website.

Here is AFMA's "Pick of the crop" list — many of the farmers' markets which AFMA feels most closely reflect best-practice principles.

Website links are included where available.

NSW & ACT

Vegetable market stall Bathurst region farmers' market, Bathurst (fourth Saturday).
Byron farmers' market, Byron Bay (every Thursday).
Byron farmers' market at Bangalow (every Saturday).
Dubbo farmers' market, Dubbo (first and third Saturday)
Good Living growers' market, Pyrmont, Sydney (first Saturday).
Hastings farmers' market, Wauchope (fourth Saturday).
Hume Murray farmers' market, Wodonga (every second Saturday).
Lismore farmers' market, Lismore (every Saturday).
Mudgee farmers' market, Mudgee (third Saturday).
Orange Region farmers' market, Orange (second Saturday).
Rainbow Region organic market, Lismore (every Tuesday).
Sunraysia farmers' market, Mourquong (first and third Saturday).
Wagga Wagga farmers' market, Wagga Wagga (second Saturday).
Warwick Farm Trackside market, Sydney (every Saturday).

Queensland

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary’s farmers’ market, Currumbin (first and third Saturday).
Marina Mirage farmers’ market, Main Beach (first, third and fifth Saturday).
Mudgeeraba farmers’ market, Mudgeeraba (second and fourth Saturday).
Noosa farmers’ market, Noosaville (every Sunday). 

South Australia

Adelaide Showground farmers’ markets, Adelaide (most Sundays).
Barossa farmers’ market, Angaston (every Saturday).
Eyre Peninsula farmers and fishermens’ market (four times a year at various Eyre Peninsula locations).
Limestone Coast farmers’ market (Sundays at various times through the year, various Limestone Coast locations).
Riverland farmers’ market, Berri (every Saturday).
Willunga farmers’ market, Willunga (every Saturday). 

Tasmania

Wynyard farmers’ market, Wynyard (second and fourth Saturday).

Victoria

Boroondara farmers’ market, Hawthorn East (third Saturday).
Buninyong farmers’ market, Buninyong (third Saturday).
Cardinia Ranges farmers’ market, Pakenham (second Saturday).
Churchill Island farmers’ market, Phillip Island (fourth Saturday).
Collingwood Children’s Farm farmers’ market, Abbotsford (second Saturday).
East Gippsland farmers’ market, Bairnsdale (first Saturday).
Gasworks farmers’ market, Albert Park, Melbourne (third Saturday).
Kingston farmers’ market, Highett (first Saturday).
Lancefield & District farmers’ market, Lancefield (fourth Saturday; third in December).
Moyhu farmers’ market, Moyhu (third Saturday).
St Kilda Veg Out farmers’ market, St Kilda (first Saturday).
Slow Food Melbourne farmers’ market, Abbotsford (fourth Saturday).
South Gippsland farmers’ market, Koonwarra (first Saturday).
Talbot farmers’ market, Talbot (third Sunday).
Tatong Village farmers’ market, Tatong (first Saturday).

Western Australia

Albany farmers’ market, Albany (every Saturday).
Boyanup & District farmers’ market, Boyanup (fourth Sunday; third in December).
Gascoyne growers’ market, Carnarvon (every Saturday May- Nov).

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments