16 March 2008

Locavore je t'adore

These are eaten with your fingers during cocktails, but with a knife and fork when served in a salad or another course at the table. Try to select one that's small enough to put in your mouth whole, because they squirt. Close your lips tightly before chewing.

Arthur Inch & Arlene Hirst.
Dinner is Served. A Butler's Guide to The Art of The Table

There is a political debate going on at my local farmers markets. The discussion seems to revolve around which producers may come in and which of the established ones now have to leave.

It breaks my heart to say goodbye to some of my favourite farmers. I miss their banter early on a Saturday morning. I miss their produce. I feel irked that they haven't been replaced by new farmers with a similar product, but by more cheese, relish and pasta vendors that I mostly do not buy from, but serve the curious day tripper style shopper who is scared to buy much else.

I see monopolies happening and I feel sad that something as healthy and good for the community as bringing the farm gate to the city is baring petty jealousies, without considering the desires of the shoppers.

I hear of harsh treatment of vendors by the person who runs this particular group of markets. There is schoolyard bitchiness between certain vendors, the bolder and more intelligent are said to hold more sway with the organisers than others. Their supporters whisper snidely that some of the more 'salt of the earth' types have now got too cocky. I feel the gush of the tomato squirting in their diatribe.

I have closed my mouth firmly and bitten my tongue, even though I was sent an email from one farmer who was sent into liquidation from being told that his family could no longer be vendors at the markets I attend. A more boutique set up was to be pushed up in the ranks instead. I don't like the pretentious boutique vendor. I don't like their much more expensive product. Their affectations irk me.

I chew it over with my mouth firmly shut. A farmer sets up a stall at a Farmers Market. They offer samples of their produce to the city folk milling around cautiously. The shoppers like what they try. Demand grows quickly, more product lines are developed, bank loans are taken and investments are made to service the demand. Over time a loyal core of about 1000 customers develops - who order in advance and collect their supplies at the designated markets.

Then the organisers of the market decide that the vendor has grown too big for the circuit and tell them that they are not to return. What does that farmer do when removed from their customers? In one case they have gone bust, have had to liquidate their assets and lay off staff at the farm. They have no other outlet for their product.

Perhaps I'm a soft touch, but once again I find myself questioning the qualifications of the people who make the decisions pertaining to the running of the markets. I like to think of myself as a person who tends towards being an Ethical Locavore - and perhaps that makes me a sap - but I personally renounce the supermarkets for the rough grist that they lay upon our farmers. Now, I see a similar ruthlessness emerging at my principal source of fresh produce and it breaks my heart. Truly.

If a Farmer provides good produce and builds a large following, does that substantiate removal from a market, or does it in fact bring more people in, to the benefit of all the other stall holders?

What quantifies 'too big', if the local demand for farmer direct produce is growing at a rapid pace? Why is a Farmer with solely a big following at the farmers markets considered bigger than another producer at the markets who also sells their product to shops and can be found in IGA supermarkets?

Are organisers and vendors aware of the long term trends? Or are they perhaps inflexibly focussed on their original smaller aims?

Pictured above: Purchased direct from local producers.

Mt Belleview Jack Horner Sausage, King Valley.

Murchison capsicum and tomatoes.

Sorrel, Basil, beetroot leaves and Dill from Glenloth

Bocconcini from Riverina Cheese, Albury.

Local doesn't mean boring.
Local means uncomplicated dishes that enhance the robust flavours of the produce:

1. North East Venison Girello, mango salsa (not local), local asparagus, Nicola potatoes, brassicas

2. Garfield Barramundi wings in 5 spice crust, Chinese Broccoli, Tofu with Szechuan sauce

3. Gipsy Pig Mandarin pork fillets, Wat Daan Chinese cabbage, rice cakes (not local)

4. Mt Bellevue Scotch fillet, chargrilled heirloom vegetables, Bison potato salad with homemade Mayonnaise & Bearnaise made with local eggs, homegrown herbs


Vida said...

I never feel intelligent enough to comment on the things you say but damn you make me think and want to act, to act responsibly and passionately, to bring about change and education!!! There is no way anyone can read what you have said and not see right from wrong... Vida x

stickyfingers said...

Thank you Vida that is a HUGE compliment. I only wish I had your guts and determination.

Vida said...

Guts and determination, I don't know sometimes it's just blind faith... faith from special people that believe in me and so forward I go... join me!! You have a lot more to offer than I ever will!! Vida x x x

Jackie Middleton said...

I don't know about the situation that you have raised here. I am a farmers market shopper and avoid the larger stands in favour of the stands with a bit of a mixed bag of 'whats good from our farm yesterday' mix. Yesterday I brought some of those gourgeous capsicums and chillis and a few zuchini and squash from the same stand. Not the big stand at the front with the packaged peaches/nectarines, doesn't seem right to me.
I also love the rhubarb lady Di and Greens eggs...
I don't even look at relish, sweets etc I'm after fresh stuff to make into that myself.

stickyfingers said...

Thanks for stopping by Jack. I am like you - not a big stand shopper. I love to make things from scratch.

I love the interaction with the farmers and am known as a regular to certain stall holders. We always stop for a gasbag with them on our visits and I often find myself giving cooking and storage tips to the curious and more timid shoppers. I do that whole circuit of markets and some further afield.

The farmers in question who have gone didn't have sophisticated set ups but still had a huge following. First they were shunted to different spots and then they were gone. ((

I suppose this is what upsets me. Especially when more commercially successful stalls such as Holy Goat, Il Fornaio and Phillipa's remain in the mix.

I bought some incredible walnut bread from Greg Brown on saturday, who having gone to ground again surfaces monthly at that same market.

Ran said...

God thats depressing. I think all supermarkets should be closed down and only farmers markets allowed! And only the farmer allowed to sell. I used to love my red hill apples from the richmond markets when i lived there, and our chats about the seasons and what apples were best for eating.

What I find even crazier is that I now live closer to farms (some within driving distance) but there are no farmers markets near where i live. everyone loves their safeway and their hard tomatoes and stone fruit.

FoodieFi said...

It's a pretty interesting problem, and definitely a worrying trend if it continues. I agree that if successful stallholders are being pushed out of Farmers' Markets because of their success, or politics, then it's a sad situation.

What about success on the other side of the stall? What happens as Farmers' Markets catch on more and more, and the attendees start to outstrip the produce? Hopefully, if this situation ensues, more farmers will come on board, perhaps even give up their supermarket contracts for the lower food mile option.

Ed Charles said...

Sticky, you've taken the very letters from my keyboard. I was planning a nice pic of Phillipa's together with a diatribe asking whether their place really is in the market. this is a baker with two shops and a factory in the middle of town that already supplied 400 outlets. I agree with Jack that I like Green Eggs, Holy Goat (although the product is sometimes variable), Rhubarb, the blokes with Stinging Nettles...What happened to that starnge bread stall where the man dressed as if he was a quaker or something? Perhaps I shall my post forward a few days.

Anonymous said...

What you may be talking about sticky is that the Farmers market has of course fallen prey to the ethically-challenged.
Those virtuous & idealistic people who supply & those that patronize are the victims of opportunist money-changers who have seen an angle & plan to exploit it.
I have often dared target the sacred cow of farmers markets to scrape away (notice I resisted saying 'drill-down!')at the ethics that seems to underpin their existance. Sometimes, they are questionable! gasp!
There are instances where stall are negociants who procure good only to onsell them, nothing wrong with that, many cockies cant get to town, but there are a few unscrupulous sorts who just buy from Footscray markets without any concern as to the provenace of the product.
As to the politicisation of the markets themselves, well its inevitable. Why, oh why, do some feel the need to 'sex-up' these markets just because they have become popular. Dont these people realise that the markets might be popular because there is a bona fide element of realism? Getting rid of the less trendy stalls makes it less 'real' to me & my bullshit detector goes up to eleven. I dont care about pizazz, I just want a real experience & real food at real prices.

Talk about prices, years ago at The Queen Vic market the stall holders were made to fork out shitloads for marketing & 'improvements' just because some nong thought that more 'polish' would attract the tourists. What happened? Stalls folded & dissappeared overnight because of some superulous window dressing. History gone. Irreplacable stuff.

I understand that admin must be part of organising a market BUT NEVER let the process get in the way of the product.
great post Sticky!

Anonymous said...

Hello Sticky Fingers, I’m buzz buzz from syrupandtang posting about slow food? Do you remember? You did invite me over. I am sorry that it taken a while but life is to be lived hey?

I'm not going into detail naming names etc but I was there near to the second beginning of slow in Melbourne (did you know the first failed?) and have watched and played on the edges ever since so i know what i am talking about.

Your story about the markets is a great example of what goes on in slow as well. You not quiet "slow enough" kinda crap. Which is very funny really. She who must be admired and is also dull can be tiresome but power will corupt.

The politics are hard "you are either with us or against us" type of deal. Are you willing to risk your business's reputation (income) by rocking the boat? I was not. If you are not in the inner royal circle it can be very confusing and even then it is hard, you never really know what is going on. Because there are the Organic slows, the fundamentalist slows, fun slows, the wannabe slow, wine slows or (sloes) and food slows. Its not an organisation its an argument waiting to happen 99% of the time.

I'm not complaining, I just cant abide the "if we just work together and it will be so much better" That’s a load of railway cattle trucks heading to hell mentality.

The fundamentals of slow in Australia are flawed, 35% of the subscription fee go to Italy( a lot of that used to end up as "Admin fees" (but by good they were good dinners) and free subscriptions to the "right kinda people" I am very sure that doesn't happen now of course. One of the previous el presidents was sacked by the state government because they could not work with her highness. The Whole slow food festival is dead with out Government funding. "Culinary welfare for the well fed" very odd really when you think about it.

Of course you can only play if you are willing to pay. Yes i know I have run businesses all my life, money is important. But... the GP are starry eyed and full of wonder it is kinda harsh to watch them skun and discarded like rabbits that are just shot for their skin. Of course doesn't matter how high up you are you will have dug deep into your own pockets for wine, food and helping make things happen (the most bloody expensive) to get there. It best be worth it as a marketing exercise for you business because it will damn near cost you soul.

You now have more than enough to ask some questions and to know when you are being bullshitted. So I will leave it at that.

For all that I still believe, very hard,hands pressed together,eyes crunched closed like a little kid praying, I believe... but not in SLOW food in Australia.

Have fun