Authentic local foods
A farmers’ market is a food market where local growers, farmers and artisan food producers sell directly to the public. Open-air markets, such as Ōtara and Avondale, have a mix of food, second-hand goods and cheap imported items, but farmers’ markets are strict about what can be sold, and where it comes from.
Farmers’ Markets New Zealand (FMNZ) was established in 2006 as a national body to help organise farmers’ markets and certify their activities. It held its first conference that year.
FMNZ says that to be an authentic New Zealand farmers’ market people can only sell ‘what they grow, farm, pickle, preserve, bake, smoke or catch themselves from a defined local area’.1 While 80% must be locally grown food, 20% can have ingredients sourced outside the region – to cover goods like locally roasted coffee, and bread.
Farmers’ markets start
Farmers’ markets began in New Zealand in 1997 with the Whāngārei Growers Market, followed by a market in Hawke’s Bay two years later. By 2006 there were 21 markets that met the FMNZ criteria. Two years on the number had more than doubled, to 43. By 2009 most New Zealand cities had at least one weekly farmers’ market.
Origins of farmers’ markets
Open-air markets in which farmers sold directly to consumers developed on the outskirts of American cities in the 1960s and 1970s. New Zealand farmers’ markets grew from this movement, rather than from the traditional European markets in town squares, where small landowners traded surplus produce for things they didn’t grow themselves.
Farmers’ markets are an alternative to supermarket food, and emphasise the quality of food, its freshness, and where it comes from.
Jennie and Bob Crum of Marlborough prefer to sell their 20 types of plum at the local farmers’ market. Jennie says supermarkets want fruit that is picked well before it is ripe so that it has a longer shelf life. ‘It is so much more satisfying for me as a grower to sell people fruit that is ripe and therefore full of flavour. But I have to teach my customers at the market what “ripe” is – because people don’t know any more.’’2
In the early 2000s New Zealand farmers’ markets had become taste destinations, places where people sought out regional foods, such as whitebait or fresh fruit. Some markets required significant travel for city dwellers. For example the markets at Matakana were more than an hour’s drive from Auckland.
Markets were seen as a boutique shopping experience, often including music by local musicians, and meals served al fresco. A wide variety of food could be sampled free, and people could take their time deciding on purchases.