Mary De Gardener and Liz Morrigan enjoying the ambience of a local Farmer’s Market.
IN the absence of any government regulation or legislation for farmers’ markets in Australia, the Australian Farmers Market Association has produced the following definition of a farmers’ market.
‘A Farmers’ Market is a predominantly fresh food market that operates regularly within a community, at a focal public location that provides a suitable environment for farmers and specialty food producers to sell farm-origin and associated value-added specialty foods for human consumption, and plant products directly to customers’.
Many farmers’ markets desire to control the claims made by their market sellers, but the exact nature of the claims they wish to control may vary between markets. The main claim they want to regulate is that stallholders are genuine farmers or processors, and not resellers. This works well for markets in locations where there are plenty of producers, but less well where there are fewer genuine farmers.
The VFMA accredited scheme
The Victorian Farmers Market Association (VFMA) is the first state-based association to bite the bullet and produce an accreditation scheme for markets and for market traders, with more than 40 Victorian farmers’ markets accredited.
The VFMA’s members, approximately 800, consist of growers and producers who sell at these accredited markets (many members sell at multiple markets).
Accredited markets are spread across the state, and include Gippsland, Swan Hill and Echuca and are generally the larger and more frequent markets. Six are weekly markets and four are fortnightly, although one of these will also open on the fifth weekend of the month, if there is one. The remainder are monthly markets.
VFMA accreditation markets can display the VFMA symbol (see the VFMA ‘tick’). For metropolitan markets, at least 90% of the stallholders must be accredited; for regional markets, 75% of the stallholders must be accredited.
To become accredited as a VFMA market or stallholder, you must first become a member ($50 fee) and then pay a non-refundable $30 ‘assessment fee’.
All stallholders at accredited markets pay a levy, collected by the markets, to contribute to the costs of maintaining accreditation processes and standards.
The VFMA defines authentic farmers’ markets as places where:
- Farmers sell direct to the public in a fair marketplace not compromised by resellers
- Farmers and producers create connections and relationships with customers and with each other
- Customers can purchase quality, freshly harvested produce, supporting local farmers and regional Victorian communities
- Customers buy fresh locally-grown produce directly from the grower, and value-added products direct from the producer, who receive full economic and social credit for their contribution to a sustainable local food system.
Victoria is unique in Australia because of the VFMA market accreditation scheme. Most other states have individual markets that control the bona-fides of market sellers and some aspire to a state-wide system of accreditation but have not yet achieved that goal.
Some markets, such as the Willunga Farmers’ Market in SA, want to control not just that sellers are genuine growers or processors, but also that they are local or regional businesses.
Other markets such as the Showgrounds Farmers’ Market, SA, and most of the accredited Victorian markets, are happy to include any genuine producers within the state.
The VFMA permits sellers who live within 100klms of the border which makes sense because they have accredited markets in border towns such as Swan Hill.
Some markets, including all the VFMA markets, want to exclude manufacturers such as art and craft and fashion, although even the definition of that might vary between markets.
For instance, some are quite happy to include soap makers or candlemakers if the main ingredients (such as olive oil or bees wax) is produced on-farm.
The VFMA does permit non-food items made from agricultural products such as wool or leather if they are sold by the farmer.
The actual definitions can be quite difficult to determine. For example, a honey-sellers processing facility may be mainly located within a region, but they may have hives distributed around the state, or even interstate.
Hence the need for a set of rules and a process for testing compliance against those rules.
Some markets also tightly control claims for organic and biodynamic production methods. VFMA accredited markets for instance, will only permit such claim where the stall holder has a certification from one of the acknowledged organic certification programs. Other markets may permit ‘uncertified organic’ or similar claims.
Some markets tolerate resellers where the produce is from local farms and sold by a genuine farming neighbor who is a stallholder. Completely unregulated markets accept resellers even where produce is purchased from wholesalers and there is no direct connection with the farms.
From a customer perspective, there can obviously be a wide variety of expectations and some are just looking for fresh produce at a bargain price. Clearly though, as customers become more aware of the potential of farmers’ markets, they appreciate being able to talk to the actual producer, and the opportunity to support local growers and to reduce food miles.
The main concern of consumers everywhere is that they want to be told the truth and not be misled about the origin and nature of the production system of whatever they are buying.
– TIM MARSHALL