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According to the Farmers’ Market New Zealand Association there are more than 50 farmer markets throughout the country and every week more than 50,000 people shop there.
For those who have yet to discover the joys of their local farmers’ market, it is, according to the Associations website, “a food market where local growers, farmers and artisan food producers sell their wares directly to consumers. Vendors may only sell what they grow, farm, pickle, preserve, bake, smoke or catch themselves from within a defined local area”.
We sent the oily rag team out early one Saturday morning to check out their local farmers’ market. They came back with an armful of fresh produce and this to say:
You can’t help but feel a sense of community when visiting your local farmers’ market. Stalls full of fresh produce, buskers and friendly banter fill the air, behind the tables are keen vendors with an eye for gold coins and crisp banknotes, and there are lots of good natured shoppers electrified with a sense of excitement over the prospect of buying fresh produce at bargain prices. It’s a little like party faithful at a political rally; there is a sense of support for an ideal worth supporting and being there is a vote for something wholesome and totally local.
The array of fresh produce was impressive. The morning we visited there was a greater selection of produce available than at the city’s largest supermarket. Locally grown oranges for example instead of those tasteless imported ones, fresh figs, corn cobs and tamarillos – all surprisingly absent from the supermarket shelves. There was a lot of organic produce and specialist items like passionfruit and melon jam; oyster mushrooms; home cured bacon, salami and cheese; exotic dips and dunks. In fact, what was on offer was as diverse and as rich in character as the cottage industries from which they were produced.
But there was one big question on our minds. Were shoppers getting a bargain? The theory is that by cutting out those that stand between the grower and the consumer the public get quality produce at great prices. To put the theory to the test we compared the price of 20 randomly selected items from the farmers’ market and compared them to the prices at the local no frills supermarket - the one with the cheapest everyday prices.
We found that three items from the farmers’ market were exactly the same price at the supermarket, nine items cost less, and eight cost more. The items that cost more at the supermarket were 35% more expensive, and the items that cost more at the farmers’ market were 25% more expensive.
So is produce at the farmers’ market a bargain? The answer to that is an unequivocal maybe! Are there bargains to be found? Absolutely yes, but you will need to know how to spot a bargain. On the day we visited red onions were $2.50 a kg compared to $6.50 at the supermarket, fancy lettuce were $1.50 each against $2.50, and smoked mullet $6 a kg instead of $7.95.
There is of course more to farmers’ markets than just the price, and for some shoppers the price is not the main consideration – it’s the freshness and everything else that goes with supporting local growers.
Every farmers’ market is different and every day is a new shopping opportunity with new prices and new bargains. Head down to your local farmers’ market, and drop us a line with the website address of your local market so we can include it on our oily rag website.
And one last thing, membership of the Oily Rag Club has now just passed 2,000! Have you signed up?
Send in your comments via the oily rag website (www.oilyrag.co.nz) or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.
* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at www.oilyrag.co.nz. The book is available from bookstores and online at www.oilyrag.co.nz.