To market, to market

When one of the little pigs decided to go to the market, I doubt that she was off to an air-conditioned grocery store across the street, somewhere among the high rise buildings. In the little pigs’ time, there was no such thing as a supermarket, I suppose.

I grew up in an Asian city and when we were young our weekly trips to the markets involved seeing live fish in tanks, chicks for sale, chickens dressed as you order, tons of leafy vegetables and a huge array of tropical fruits. We were so used to the scents of fresh produce markets that we knew the difference between the smell of beef and pork, and the spices and pungent vegetables.

Today in supermarkets, almost everything is sterile, packed for safety and convenience. Most of the produce has been frozen and washed so clean that some of the flavours and nutrients have disappeared.

And so when my family of three moved to the Gold Coast, I found reassurance knowing that farmers markets are alive and well.

What is a farmers market

A farmers market is a market where local farmers and growers sell produce directly to the public. They serve not just as a place for farmers to get the best price and consumers to get the best products, but as venues for producers and consumers to come together and exchange information.

So what is the advantage of going to a farmers market when everything you need is in the supermarket?

On the Gold Coast, farmers markets generally open once a week in each location. That means there’s something to look forward to on a weekend, or on a specific weekday. And because most farmers markets on the Gold Coast are also food markets, it’s a great place to experience a variety of gourmet and fresh artisan delights. And when there’s food, there’s a reason to come together with family and friends for a weekly catch-up or simply to have a fun in a vibrant outdoor shopping and eating space.

But more than the taste-bud treats, farmers markets offer us a wide variety of produce options. Our family goes to the Gold Coast Turf Club market in Bundall every Sunday because it’s near our home and we have established which stallholder we buy our favourite vegetables and fruits from. But we also try new ones every now and then, and because there are many vegetable and fruit stalls, there will always be something new to buy. The best part is you get to taste them before you decide which one you want to buy.

A smaller market we also visit is the Emerald Lakes Gourmet Food and Farmers market in Carrara. We go here because it’s open on Thursdays, a time when most of the Sunday purchases have already been consumed. There are fewer produce stalls, but the variety of gourmet food to choose from makes it an attractive proposition.

Although we have our regular markets, we do explore around the city and have been to most of the other farmers markets (and the non-farmers’ ones) around the Coast.

Buying local

Australia’s vast landmass is home to many farmlands, commercial or otherwise. There’s always a wide variety of produce grown within the state. If you want the best quality of produce, it will always come from the nearest farm. Why? Because there’s less time needed to transport it to the consumer, hence, less need to apply preservatives or freeze it.

A community will benefit most in selling and buying within that community. The glitter strip may not be known for farmlands, but its neighbouring hinterlands and regional townships are its main source of local produce. Unless you grow your own, these farmers markets are your best place to shop.

One may be surprised at the number of farmers markets within the city. Because of varied venues, each one has its own character and its own vibe. Take for instance Produce at the Pier every Saturday at the Broadwater Parklands in Southport. It is located near the pier and is beside the rock pools, so families can enjoy the park activities and do a bit of shopping. The Emerald Lakes Gourmet Food and Farmers Markets every Thursday are set against a European backdrop, with a lake just a stone’s throw away. The Burleigh Farmers Market every Saturday morning is in the Burleigh State School, so it makes it safe for children to run around and play in the school’s playgrounds.

The locations of the Gold Coast farmers markets are in strategic suburbs so most people who go there are locals. It is interesting to know that all of them are only a few minutes-drive away from practically anywhere in the city. If organic and sustainably-farmed produce are your thing, you can visit Miami Organic Market at Miami High every Sunday or check out the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) Precinct at the Burleigh Farmers Market every Saturday.

Benefits of shopping at farmers markets

There’s nothing healthier than being outdoors. It’s always good for one’s wellbeing and state of mind.

“Outdoor markets have a great vibe; much more relaxing than a shopping centre,” says Tamsin McGuin, Produce at the Pier Market.

There’s the freshness aspect in farmers markets. You can choose from a variety of stalls and actually know where your food comes from. Whether the goods come from regional Queensland or northern New South Wales, you’re always assured that what you get is not imported from somewhere that takes a whole day to drive to or further.

You will always have the privilege of asking the farmers directly about their goods. Having them there to interact with also adds to the “feel good” experience when you shop in outdoor farmers markets. They get to know you and you get to know them. And somehow that makes your vegetables and fruits seem a little fresher and tastier. (Because of the many free tasting activities perhaps?) Markets create a community around food, and the farmers also educate consumers about their food.

Because your goodies are not pre-packaged, these farmers markets actually inspire you to be more creative in your kitchen. You get your ingredients fresh and you are encouraged to make food from scratch. These markets encourage mindful cooking and eating.

Most farmers sell seasonal produce. You’ll be assured that there’s nothing forced in growing vegetables and fruits just to get them out in the markets before they’re even in season. This means you get more of the nutrients and flavours from the produce that you buy.

Gourmet food abounds in these markets. And you will enjoy choices of food that you won’t find in commercial centres or anywhere else. Most farmers markets also encourage small businesses to sell their products, whether food or non-food. This makes it more appealing to those who always look for non-commercial goods. Mind you, most food stalls cook on the spot so you are also assured of freshness.

Then there’s the atmosphere of fun and entertainment, of the familiar and of interactions. Most markets have local and live entertainment from emerging musicians, and it makes a cheap, outdoor backdrop for a friendly get-together among friends and family, much like a public square.

“These days supporting small business and local trade is in the forefront of people’s minds,” says Tamsin McGuin from Produce on the Pier, “aligning with ideas such as making positive choices for the environment and ensuring a fresh and healthy lifestyle.”

“Buying directly from farmers provides direct benefits to those farmers as well.”

Farmers markets had been overtaken by commercial supermarkets in the past few decades, but we’re seeing a growing trend in Gold Coast communities and a resurgence of the farmers market scene.

Perhaps it is the dynamism and the vibrant social energy of these markets that attract people. Perhaps it is also the need for a fresh and positive change in consumer attitudes that make these markets click. It can be a whole lot of other reasons, but one thing’s for sure: these markets are definitely growing and should be here to stay.

For more information about farmers markets on the Gold Coast visit:

http://www.yourlocalmarkets.com.au/index.cfm

http://www.farmersmarkets.org.au/markets#qld

http://goldcoastfarmersmarkets.com.au/

http://gcorganicmarket.com/

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