Have a read of this great article by Sue Neales, published in The Australian, published 03 August 2015
When is a farmers’ market not a farmers’ market? The answer is clear, according to Miranda Sharp, organiser of eight popular farmer-direct markets held regularly in local squares, parks and schools in inner Melbourne.
When there are no genuine farmers manning the fresh farm produce stalls, only fast talking salesmen who have never set foot in a muddy paddock peddling sad looking fruit and wilted vegetables bought or left over from a commercial wholesale market the day before, then it is time to walk away.
“It’s simple; it isn’t a farmers’ market if there are no farmers there,” Ms Sharp says.
“Unfortunately, there are fake and dodgy markets popping up everywhere and it’s not good for either farmers or consumers. The main reason people come to farmers’ markets instead of the supermarket is they want to buy their food direct from a local farm, know how it is grown and talk to real farmers; if that trust is broken we are all at risk.”
Ms Sharp admits the flourishing success of the 200 plus so called farmers’ markets in Australia, like the weekly Wednesday market she runs at Melbourne University, is bringing with it problems of authenticity, scamming and rorts.
There is the wellknown case of the stand at a “farmers’ market” in Melbourne selling coconuts, where the stallholder tried to convince inquiring shoppers he was a coconut grower with a farm near Mildura. (Coconuts don’t grow in Victoria.) Or the chocolate maker who, when questioned, admitted he bought his cooking chocolate from Woolworths, not direct from a North Queensland cocoa farmer, once again breaking the firm local and direct sourcing rules of a real — and accredited — farmers’ market.
Wayne Shields, the president of the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association, which runs the increasingly popular accreditation scheme in that state, has had enough. Only one third of the 110 “farmers’ markets” in Victoria are accredited and bound by the associations strict authenticity rules and — although not all the other 70 are bad — Mr Shields says there are some “shockers out there” that are spoiling the reputation of the rest.
“I’m sick of seeing people being lied to and conned; it’s not doing the real farmers and genuine markets any favours and it is time for us to stand up and take the front foot,” says Mr Shields, an organic vegetable and herb grower from the Mornington Peninsula.
“Every time there is an unscrupulous reseller who is not the real deal, it is taking up a spot at that market for a genuine farmer and, worst of all, we end up with consumers who are cynical, disappointed and never come back.”
A spokesman for the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission said it had the powers to investigate claims of commercial resellers masquerading as genuine farmers, as misleading and deceptive conduct or misrepresentation Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said she was aware of concerns about false markets
and fake farmers and would work to maintain the integrity of the genuine farmers’ markets that are so valued by local communities and farmers.
“We love farmers’ markets and would like to see more people buying their food direct from the source and appreciating its origins ,” Ms Pulford said.
“But the dumping of surplus commercial product via farmers’ market is a long way from what was intended if you want the real deal maybe you need to start the questions: is it accredited or not.”
Ms Sharp said the rules for the accredited markets she helps organise are strict. Only food or farm produce can be sold, 90 per cent of the stalls must be farm-direct, and they all must be manned by the farmer, a family member or someone who works on the farm growing the produce.
Even the remaining 10 per cent of the stalls — usually selling food such as pies, cakes or dips — must use predominantly Victorian grown ingredients sourced directly from a farmer.
“So the milk in the coffee is local Gippsland milk, or the chickpeas in the hummus are from a Horsham farm; that integrity and honesty is vital to the multi layered story behind each stall and every accredited farmers’ market,” Ms Sharp says.
A recent survey of Australia’s booming farmers’ markets scene by the Rural Industry Research and Development Council found they were no longer a cottage industry or small cash economy player, but a major part of the economics of many participating farms.
Nearly all farmers said their market stalls made a profit, encourage d growth, acted as business incubators, provided valuable feedback direct from consumers on products and preferences, and gave their branded produce direct exposure to new markets, chefs and local restaurants.