11 September 2019

Bega's Farmer's Market - what does it need to really fire in 2019?

| Elka Wood
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Regular market customers Anne [second from left] and Rod [second from right] chat with friends on market day. Photo: Elka Wood.

On face value, Bega’s Farmer’s Market has a lot going for it. It offers fresh, local food sourced within 250 km.

The weekly Friday market is centrally located in Bega’s Littleton Gardens and it even has a stall which will sell your excess produce for you for a small commission.

So why, so often, does a view of the market show only three or four stalls, a food van and a smattering of people?

The poor showing of Bega’s market is especially confusing to those people who remember the origins of the market when sausages sizzled, a coffee van did steady business and stalls offered services such as knife sharpening, hairdressing or massages as well as local produce.

“I do wonder … why are there not more people?” asks market coordinator Sue Hill.

Partly, the answer lies in the nature of the conditional agreement between SCPA – South East Producers, who run the market and with Bega Valley Shire Council who manage Littleton Gardens.

“Council wanted us to not have services and only produce from 250 km away,” explains Hill. “They also require us to move the market every two months because of concerns about wear to the grass.”

Sue Hill volunteers her time as market coordinator of the Bega SCPA – South East Producers market. In front of Hill is an empty food container made from compostable plastic. The market aims to be waste-free. Photo: Elka Wood.

SCPA President, Paul McMurray says that the market’s main goal is to “grow the grower,” but that “we’ve got a bit of a chook and egg situation here – to make the market interesting to customers, we need more growers, but to make the market look profitable to growers, we need more people.”

A history of concern from the Chamber Of Commerce about the market impacting negatively on Bega business has not helped the market grow, despite, according to Hill and former market coordinator Geoffrey Grigg, asking every business on Bega’s main street whether market days helped or hindered business and receiving a resoundingly positive response.

“One business abstained from commenting, but every other business we approached said market day was a busy day for them,” says McMurry.

Lisa Arlid and her daughter Sierra enjoy some treats from Nicky Harris and Chris Aikin’s food van, which specialises in fermented products. Photo: Supplied.

Hill has been the market coordinator for three years and, like all the SCPA members who help put the market together every week, she is a volunteer.

Hill believes the answer to growing the market lies in education – that if everyone understood the impacts of food miles and the ecological footprint, they would buy their food at the market, however limited the selection.

“I have to do this for the planet,” Hills says passionately of the hours she spends on the market, “because I know the climate is changing and the one way we can really make an impact is through our shopping.”

McMurry, however, believes the message ‘support local growers’ must be carefully presented so as not to imply judgment.

Paul McMurry serves customers at Bega’s SCPA market. Photo: Elka Wood.

“We have to attract people here,” McMurry says with a grin, “and we’re probably not going to do that by criticising their lifestyle.”

Rod and Anne are retired and visit the market almost every Friday.

“It’s not sort of… taken off, has it?” Rod muses of the market. “I’d love to come here and see people queuing up for Paul’s veggies. I think it’s because of the time – if I wasn’t retired, there’s no way I would make it on a Friday morning.”

Regular stallholder Jareem says although the market often looks empty, there is a core of “good regular customers,” like Anne and Rod.

“But it’s not that ‘meet ya for coffee,’ big crowd feeling is it?” Jareem says, surveying the few people sitting in the shade in the centre of the market.

Bega’s market may only have a handful of stalls, but it has some “good regular customers,” says stallholder Jareem. Photo: Elka Wood.

Council’s Economic Development Manager, Daniel Murphy, says there is a need to get more people interested in the future of the market and offered the award-winning Moruya SAGE Farmers Market as an example of a successful, producer-led market.

“It might be time to get partners around the table and see what the issues and opportunities are, “Murphy says.

Jareem, commenting on the low numbers of customers, says that perhaps the opening of whole-foods-type shops in Bermagui, Cobargo and Pambula has meant fewer people travel to Bega to shop organic, local, and waste-free.

Then he smiles and asks “or is it really as simple as the market having a coffee machine?”

Bega’s Farmer’s Market – what does it need to really fire in 2019 and beyond? What would make you go?

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Lack of choice and high prices stops many from returning. The key is customer numbers which is also affected by timing as well as limited supply/choice and sometimes excessive prices.

I do like the idea of an evening market on Thursdays, or maybe Saturday afternoon markets which make it more accessible to people who work during the week but it it a bit disappointing when you go to a farmers market and there is so little produce available.

Previous years there were far more vendors and there being very little in the way of greenhouses and people growing commercial quantities of vegetables locally.

Allowing services by local people, eg massage, would be great.

Anne Maree Carroll8:56 pm 18 Jan 19

My name is Anne Maree Carroll and for the last 2 Years I have shopped every Friday at the farmers market and before that when I could fit it in around work. I work full time in Bega but am able to do a quick shop before work at 8am. Sometimes I will pick up produce for my colleagues who are not able to make it to the market for work reasons. I loved the Bega box initiative of Geoffrey however I know it was a massive amount of work however it was very customer friendly for people like myself who found it difficult to get to the market. The produce is always amazing then and now…….I would agree with someone else’s comment regarding timing. A late afternoon market similar to Bermagui would probably work best for workers. Maybe 3.30 ish opening to cater for school pickups or 3 to cater for shopping before picking children up.In saying that the market would need to be open until 6 to cater for workers that finished at 5/5.30. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved with both the organising and selling at the markets. You all do such a fantastic job.👏

I’ve been going to the market regularly for the past 4.5 years throughout two pregnancies and with small children. It gives me a regular social event to attend where I chat with stall holders and customers, buy fresh local produce and tasty, natural treats. We make new friends there, my kids talk to and play with adults and children. We try new fruits and vegetables, the stall holders are always very informative and generous in teaching us about new produce. It’s the most lovely way to go grocery shopping. Some weeks when we had plenty in the garden we would still go just for the social outing. These days at the market I mainly buy bread, soap as needed, fresh whole quiche pies (for $10, such a great deal), and tasty, healthy raw treats and chia pudding snacks from Faraway Farm Fermentary (there is always a new flavour to try). I would like to buy more fresh produce there but often there are the same things there that we have in our own garden. If more people were selling onions, carrots, and sweet potato, that would be helpful. But there is plenty to buy if you don’t have your own garden and you are right next to all the other shops to get whatever else you are missing. If someone came with local cheese that you could put into your own container that would be wonderful. I’ve thought of selling Kale Chips but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Over the years stalls have come and gone, it’s always worth stopping in to see what is happening.

The redeveloped little gardens has no infrastructure supporting the market. Paths, shade, seating simply not providing for the market to work well. Look to Moruya and the safe paths, plenty of EVERGREEN shade trees and an obvious plan accomodating the market.

Littleton Gardens is not a big space. There is a path that runs through the middle and trees scattered all around with free edible plants (‘Eat the Park’) growing around the trees and in other beds for all to pick. The market moves from one side to the other depending on the week and there is more shade on one side but both have some shade. There are flat benches to sit on and wonderful large rocks to sit on or for the kids to climb and jump off of. Yes there could be a few more trees but other than that there isn’t much more that you could fit in there. The Moruya market is in a much larger location.

I work so cannot make it on a friday morning even though i would love to. Maybe making it in the afternoon like the one in Bermi is a good idea or a Saturday morning?

To attract more people, it needs to be on a Saturday morning. Maybe change the venue it Council have a problem with that. Although, the current venue offers lots of conveniences, such as handy parking and other shops.

Also, along with fresh fruit and vegetables, growers of fresh chicken, beef, lamb, fish, oysters, nuts, and local winemakers, etc need to be encouraged to participate. The market needs to include all the fresh produce which makes it worthwhile shopping at a fresh, local market. And yes, coffee.

Mary Clancey10:04 am 15 Jan 19

I go to Bega once a week for shopping and appts etc, which usually doesn’t correspond with a Friday. I grow my own fruit and veggies or can buy local produce at Candelo Store so don’t need to go to Farmers’ market.

the tourist market could be engaged If the market was held and promoted as a weekend event (say saturday morning). Good luck!

A different time.

I believe this is part of a much bigger issue, and one that came up often when I was working with SCPA and a grower of flowers, herbs and vegetables. I believe it is an issue of transport to markets. I have lived in the valley for over 30 years and know of numerous people who have set themselves up as growers of produce using the good soil, climate and water of the region. Almost all of them grew their yield to a point where they needed to send their produce off to market. It was extremely difficult to find refrigerated transport. Some of us could get room in the fish trucks from Eden. Some of us (like me) drove it themselves to Canberra. Most of them gave up. I don’t have a solution, just commenting on the handbrake.

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