The first time I heard the idea of a weekend farmers market criticised by a prominent local food advocate, I was a little shocked.
The second time, it made me think. And now…
The nature of the criticism was that by running farmer’s markets on weekends, we risk positioning them as a pastime – a nice morning outing that you might attend to pick up a baguette and some cheese for your Saturday picnic.
While a weekend market is a truly lovely thing to attend as a consumer (hell, I do it whenever I get the chance), it’s not always the case for the growers who attend.
Sure, they sell some stuff. And yes, some people do their weekly food shopping there. But, in the main, it’s a Saturday, after all. There’s lots of things you’d like to do other than lugging all your food home before you can start your weekend.
If you’re a grower, a Saturday market means picking, washing and packing all day Friday. Then it means getting up at 2am Saturday to travel to market to set up and be ready by 7am when the market opens.
And then working the market all day till early afternoon (if you’re lucky), then packing up, then travelling home, then unpacking at the other end, then falling down. And that is your weekend, it’s Monday again tomorrow. Thanks, Farmer!
But that’s not all.
With some obvious exceptions like the markets before Christmas and Easter, many grower’s I’ve talked to speak of endemic “tyre kickers” syndrome of many weekend market-goers.
Lots of looking, a bit of tasting. Lots of photo-taking, a little buying. Plenty of instagramming, but sometimes not a lot of making it worth the farmer’s while.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s many advantages to a weekend farmers market – brand building, customer contact, and some sales. But for small producers, not selling everything can hurt.
The crux here is that small producers need locals to buy their produce week in, week out, in quantity, in order to stay in business.
It’s a case of use it or lose it. You want a vibrant local food system? Then your local growers need to be supported by people buying their produce. All their produce. Each and every week. So why aren’t we?
The problem here is not that a small town (or a large one) doesn’t eat enough vegetables to keep its local small producers going.
It may be a question of convenience. That the amazing produce is not immediately available when folks are doing their weekday shop.
Two South Coast towns we know of are addressing this fundamental problem with a mid-week farmer’s market. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s making a very large impact on each region’s local food system.
From speaking to a few of the folks running both the Kiama Farmer’s Market and the (award winning!) SAGE Farmer’s Market Moruya, there’s some immediate similarities in the mid-week model’s success.
In the middle of town: both markets are a stones throw from the town’s main street.
Short time window: the market is from 3pm – 6pm. People come, get their food, have a quick chat, and get on their way before dinner (far less tyre kickers).
Normalisation: the idea of buying your weekly groceries from the folks that grew them. Every week. It’s not a holiday outing, this is just another Tuesday: buying real food grown locally. Lucky you.
Extra picking window: for growers who attend a weekend market, a mid-week market means a mid-week pick to add to their weekend pick.
This flows on to making their enterprise more sustainable, and makes them more likely to continue to be growers, and therefore strengthen your local food system.
Normal shopping day: most folks and families (in this area) do a weekly shopping run mid-week, before the chaos of the weekend begins.
Now they can go do that at the market, and buy the majority of their groceries fresher than fresh.
All up, the combination of the above factors are proving very successful for these two markets.
The growers and producers I talked to spoke of selling far more in 3 hours on a short Wednesday market than they did in two long Saturday markets.
While none of the above is rocket science, it’s worth considering how very, very few Australian towns or suburbs have set up systems to ensure access to fresh local food during the week.
Produce that is where we need it, when we have time to buy it.
As a community activator, mid-week farmer’s markets are but one aspect of a resilient local food economy. But they’re also a darn fine place to start.
- Kiama Farmer’s Market, NSW: every Wednesday, 3 – 6pm (2 – 5 pm in Winter)
- SAGE Farmer’s Market Moryua, NSW: every Tuesday, 3 – 6 pm
Big thanks to Fraser of Old Mill Road BioFarm, Fiona of Buena Vista Farm and all the other producers I’ve talked to on this topic over the years, for their thoughts and input.
Photos above via Sebastian Photography, Kiama Farmer’s Market, Old Mill Road + I Feel Good.
Well written 🙂 I agree, and I think we need to think about our small producers and organic farmers more and how to support what they are doing effectively. I love buying their produce but it has to work for the sellers too and we the consumers have to put our spending $$ into the business we love xx
Thanks Kirsten for this important posting. Part of the rationale behind the EAT LOCAL THURSDAY movement is so Traders create regular and reliable cash-flows (a requirement for any viable enterprise) so, given that most of the ELT Traders are already at weekend markets, trading on Thursdays is yet another opportunity for that cash-flow to ka-ching into the koffers. At EAT LOCAL THURSDAY we don’t have any tyre-kickers……everyone is there to purchase their tucker from their Growers and Makers. Yes, peeps do sit down with friends over a cuppa and a biscuit for a catch-up but the main purpose of all… Read more »
We are great supporters of local producers. We also just opened up a large area in the back to plant a huge vegetable garden next year. Can’t wait. Hopefully we will be able to feed several families. (Ontario, Canada)
It is interesting thinking back about the decisions that a small group of us made in late 2012 to have a go at a farmers market in Moruya. There is a long established weekly Saturday Market in Moruya that has everything from clothing, books, and second hand items to vegetables. The management committee decided that there were already too many people selling vegetables (some of which were from Sydney markets) so our local growers that SAGE had helped to establish had nowhere to sell. We (SAGE) decided that a weekly market was essential, and as a couple of local growers… Read more »
Great to hear the insights, Stuart. You’re all an inspiration x
This post highlights a really important part of accessibility and resilience of a food system. Who is excluded when a Farmer market becomes high-end? What is the flow on effect for growers? This article made me think of the store Choku Bai Jo, in Canberra. Promoted as a weekday Farmer’s Market, Choku Bai Jo sources produce from their local organic farm, directly from farmers in the region (most of whom attend weekend farmer’s markets in Canberra) and are third party wholesalers for less regional foodstuffs. Choku is open every week day from 2-7, and Saturday 8-1. I think it does… Read more »
I grow all my own fruit and vegies so don’t need to go to the Farmers Markets. However I remember my grandmother who lived on the far north coast of NSW had regular visits (every Friday I think) from a mobile fruiter who had a table top truck, probably about 3 ton, with sloping up shelves to the centre absolutely loaded with numerous fruit and vegetables going from street to street selling fresh produce. He came from the local area and would collect his produce from his own farm and other locals who would be able to supply different things… Read more »
Great idea! I recognize the problems with a weekend market. This is something I would like to implement in my local town in Sweden. Thanks for your inspiring articles that hopefully can have a global effect on the way we look at food production and bring customers nearing their local farmers.
“Costa has said for a while now that (weekend) Farmers Markets are becoming trendy and exclusive” – thank you Pennie. I’ve also thought this for some time now. We have a regular Farmer’s Market nearby but I have bought less and less over time because frankly, I am tired of being ripped off. I grow lots of our vegetables and source what I don’t grow from local farms so I do know how much food costs. I make our own yoghurt too and when I am confronted with a half filled plastic container of yoghurt selling for $10.00, well, no… Read more »
We shop at the Southside Farmers Market in Canberra every one-two weeks and we buy almost all our fruit and vegies there, as well as olives and olive oil, all our honey, some cheese and half our bread (it lasts until mid-week). I see plenty of people with bags and bags full of food so hopefully that speaks well of the viability of the market. And we are blessed with the Moruya mushroom man – yummmm. I do wonder about some of the vendors who come in for a little while and then go, but they are often people selling… Read more »
There is a nice model in Ohio and Michigan where there is a physical building that’s open normal store hours 7 days a week. There is one checkout till, but you can buy products from many different farms. There are regular employees at the till and stocking shelves. Farmers drop their produce off on a regular schedule – and not at 2am on Saturday morning – which keeps the shelves full even if Farmer X is out of tomatoes and Farmer Y doesn’t deliver until tomorrow. Farmers get a very large percentage of the sales (85%, I believe) and are… Read more »
I live in upstate New York and here our best and most lucrative markets are the Saturday ones. Weekday markets are not attended as well because during earlier hours many would-be shoppers are at work and evenings are hard because people often leave city centers to go back home after work and don’t want to stop to shop. Not the case everywhere, but certainly here. I worked many years for a very successful veg farm and they eventually dropped their mid-week market in favor of increasing mid-week CSA deliveries. Now as a start up farmer myself, I find the weekend… Read more »
Yes it definitely depends on context – where people work, how much they work, where they live…. in a small to medium sized town where we live though, the weekday model seems to be extremely effective if you can get it up.
I love farmer’s markets as a consumer. For farmers they’re great for exposure, but do have inefficiencies and inconveniences built in compared to online sales or selling via a co-op or hub. I’ve been there myself, but of course I’m biased…
I almost never go to the farmers market in Adelaide for two reasons: first, it’s evolved into a trendy hipster outing and less of an actual fresh food market (I don’t want coffee and cooking demonstrations, I want fruit and veg) but also Sunday morning isn’t a convenient time for me (it’s far enough away that I can’t just drop in). So I agree with what you are saying. There actually is a weekday farmers market here which would suit me but,again, it’s too far away for a quick visit. I would be interested to know how many other weekday… Read more »
I think weekday markets are great. In the nimbin area there is Tues morn organic market in lismore, wed arvo farmers market in nimbin, thurs arvo produce market in lismore cbd, and blue knob farmers market on sat plus many others in the area. I felt spoilt when I lived there with such choice! And you can do 2 smaller shops a week to keep things fresher and save fridge space.
I really try and support the idea of food coop shops that use volunteer labour contributions to keep the costs not too much above wholesale (contribute labour or pay some extra), paying farmers good fair prices. Near the business centre for convenience, but more fringe or tucked away a little to keep the costs of space minimal, and often easier parking but also easy walking and public transport access. That way farmers can be farmers, as mentioned in the original post, without spending half of their life getting to and from market, then perhaps they can enjoy social community gatherings… Read more »
I love the idea of a midweek afternoon market. I can’t see it happening in Canberra because so many of our market supplies travel so far. It would not be economical for them to make two trips each week. Like Kathy B we buy a lot of our veges each week at the south side markets. We also try to support out local fruit and vegetable shop because they provide great products and service too and I would also hate to lose them.
Reblogged this on Connect To Your Community Garden and commented:
This article is a great one, on why there should be more weekday farmers markets to encourage local fresh produce to be purchased, instead of purchasing mass-produced from the supermarket! Connect To Your Community Garden LOVES this idea!!
Here in UK all my local farmers markets are monthly events at the weekend, which places them absolutely as a pastime event for the well heeled. We’ve given up attending them (with Fruit Gin) as the tyre kickers like nothing better than sampling some free alcohol.
Our local town has a regular Wednesday and Saturday market (but no farmers market) and I’d like to see farmers market stalls integrated into this regular market and give some competition to some of the tat that’s sold there.
Great article – I came here via http://cityhippyfarmgirl.com/2014/09/18/simple-living-weekday-markets-calendars-and-questions-the-green-noticeboard/
I was very interested to read your article as I find that Australian markets do not meet the criteria of being the place where you go once a week to buy your regular vegetables, cheese, bread etc as is very common in say France or the Netherlands. Even Wednesday afternoon is not quite the right time to go and shop before going home to prepare dinner, etc. I would say 10am to 2 or 3pm would be more practical. I have very recently moved to Berry and am appalled at the lack of freshly grown vegetables and fruits. The small… Read more »
How much should coriander be? It’s at least that in the supermarkets. Also, as lovely as it would be to take the morning off to go to a farmers market in the morning each week,the Kiama crew found that (like many places) the late afternoon is best because many/most people work during the day, so tend to do their shopping in the afternoon, same as the supermarket. 🙂
I was introduced to this idea, whilst at Buena Vista Farm, and obviously we were chatting about Kiama market, which seems to be doing excellently. We are now back in our native Wales on a farm, and next year will be selling at our local farmers’ markets. There is one near us that won British Farmer’s market of the year award this year, and that interestingly is a midweek one too, every Tuesday 9am-1pm. That is the market we’re hoping to do most of our sales, and perhaps do one of the big monthly ones on a weekend if we… Read more »
let us know how you go, Alex!
Great article, all ringing true. I’m just about to start my market garden in NW Tas where we do have a great many weekend markets all over the state, but alas they are all on the weekends, dominated by tire kickers and the people who do buy the locally grown produce seem to be more impulse buys, as appose to them coming specifically to buy their fruit and veg. This idea of a mid week, afternoon market sounds great. Perfect for people to visit after work on their way home. I will be definitely networking with the local growers here… Read more »