Putting real farmers into farmers’ markets

Consumer advocate CHOICE wants clearer national standards about just what constitutes an authentic farmers’ market, because of confusion about the character of different types of fresh produce markets.

A CHOICE report says weekly or monthly gatherings with ‘growers’, ‘producers’ or even ‘farmers’ in their name aren’t necessarily the real McCoy, according to the definition as set out by the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association (AFMA).

According to the AFMA criteria, the person selling any produce should have a direct link to where it’s farmed, and the markets should only sell fresh and artisan value-added produce such as jams or cheese or other farming-related goods.

CHOICE says there are local mixed-goods markets and organic produce markets, which although they include some growers’ stalls, should not be defined as farmers’ markets because not all sellers come from farms and they sell craft and bric-a-brac.

“There’s no legislation defining just what a farmers’ market should be, although in Victoria they are working towards an accreditation scheme,” said CHOICE media spokesperson Christopher Zinn.

“We’d like to see a review of the industry and a clear and consistent national scheme to ensure consumers who want to buy directly from the farmers can be sure they are doing just that.”

The latest available figures estimate there are more than 100 farmers’ markets operating in all states with an annual turnover in excess of $40 million. The return of this more traditional way of buying food direct from the producer began in Australia in 1999.

It’s said farmers’ markets help stimulate regional economies, provide an alternative to large grocery chains, and foster community spirit — as well as ensuring the farmer gets a fair price. But CHOICE says too many consumers are unsure about what factors determine a true farmers’ market.

“The single best way to determine if the market is a true farmers’ market is to talk to the stallholder,” said Zinn. “If they can’t tell you where the produce came from, when it was picked and how it was grown, it’s probably not a farmers’ market.”

See the full CHOICE report for further details.

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