A new public awareness campaign is set to put the ‘farmer’ back into Victoria’s farmers’ markets.

The Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association (VFMA) is stepping up its efforts to ensure stallholders that trade at farmers’ markets genuinely are the farmers who grow the produce they sell. The first salvo in the VFMA’s campaign is a visually-striking new logo that will signify whether a farmers’ market and its stallholders are “the real deal”. The association has also announced renowned chef and author Rosa Mitchell, from Melbourne’s Rosa’s Kitchen and Rosa’s Canteen restaurants, will become an official ambassador for the farmers’ market movement. Rosa is an advocate for cooking with locally-grown fresh food and has long been a passionate supporter of farmer’s markets. “I love shopping at farmers’ markets which are always full of small independent growers. They are the place where you can be confident you are getting fresh, locally grown produce which hasn’t travelled far by the time it gets to your kitchen,” said Rosa.

Growing trend

VFMA president, Wayne Shields, says it’s important the Victorian public understands the difference between a genuine farmers’ market versus a market that simply masquerades as one. “The popularity of farmers’ markets in Victoria has exploded over the past few years; the downside of this trend is that a growing number of market organisers are passing off their events, knowingly or unwittingly, as genuine farmers’ markets, when clearly they are not. “These markets are popping up all over the place, however, they’re not really farmers’ markets - they tend to be dominated by stallholders selling a range of goods sourced from wherever, not people selling the produce they’ve made and/or grown. We don’t bemoan anyone earning a dollar by selling at a market, we just think they should be billed for what they are, and that is, community markets, or something similar.”

Accreditation program

A key element of the VFMA’s charter is managing the Victorian farmers' market accreditation program, an initiative supported by the Victorian Government and designed to ensure the credibility of participants. The program advocates best practice and celebrates the work of genuine farmers, specialty makers and farmers’ markets themselves. “Enforcing accreditation is critical for the ongoing viability of Victoria’s farmers’ markets,” Shields says. “When shopping at a farmers’ market, the public should have confidence in the authenticity of producers; in other words, that the person they are transacting with is the person who grew or made the produce.”

Inspiring and educational

Over the past five years, the VFMA has grown from 100 stallholder members and 19 markets to nearly 800 members and 39 accredited markets. Shields says one of the key reasons underpinning the popularity of farmers’ markets is the public’s growing discomfort with the origin of much of the food they buy from large supermarkets. “The number of miles a lot of food has to travel before it lands on our plate is a real worry. There’s a big swing back to authenticity generally, and sourcing fresh food that’s grown locally is part of that movement.” Shields also believes the experiential aspect of farmers’ markets has a lot going in its favour. “Let’s face it, no-one really enjoys visiting their local ‘big box’ supermarket, but the experience of wandering around an accredited farmers’ market is another matter entirely; taking your time while shopping for produce, chatting with the farmers who have grown the food they are selling. It’s fun, inspiring and educational,” he says.

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