It’s 5.15am on any Saturday (and some Sundays) and you’ll find our ‘market car’ with its cargo of Holy Goat cheese, lovingly packed and refrigerated, on it’s way an accredited Farmers’ Market in Melbourne, or perhaps closer to home at Castlemaine or Bendigo.
By 8am our stall is set up and ready – our cabinet stocked … with tubs of creamy Fromage Frais, wrapped barrels of Silk, pyramids of ash-coated Black Silk, the lovely La Luna, delicate logs of Skyla, and the more mature cheeses – Eclipse, Pandora and Veloute … and tasting plates on hand. Many market-goers know exactly what they want and ask us for it. Others are new to the market, or to goat’s cheese. We have plenty of time for both, because the markets give us an opportunity to interact directly with our customers, to receive feedback on our product and to help us keep developing our cheeses, and our farm.
This two way connection is vital for us and other small producers around the State. It also means we get a fair price for our produce and the buyer knows exactly what they’re buying, how it is produced, and by whom (including the names of our goats, if they should ask). They can also find out how seasonal conditions are influencing the final product. Selling cheese here is much more than just a financial transaction.
Victoria’s uniquely successful, voluntary Farmers’ Market Accreditation, which ensures the produce customers buy has been grown by the person they hand over their money to, and that it has been grown within defined local, regional, or state boundaries, has been an important part of our success.
Today we’re Collingwood Children’s Farm and Bendigo Farmers’ Market. Of the weekly Melbourne farmers’ markets, Collingwood attracts some 3000+ visitors and many are regulars at our stall. The city farm is in a beautiful location on a bend of the Yarra River and many shoppers stay to enjoy the animals, music and lovely Spring sunshine.
Fairfield, at the local primary school, is one of our newer markets and we are gaining a loyal following. ‘Once people have tasted the cheese they will walk back to our stall month after month. It sells itself,’ says Gen, one of our farmers’ marketeers. ‘Children love the fresh cheese. Market-goers have a real taste for the La Luna.’
‘People are very curious to know how the cheese is made and where the farm is. Selling at Farmers’ Markets means you get to meet lots of different people and you really get to know your regular customers. At Gasworks market, people are at the point where they bring along photos of their kids or grandkids to show me! It’s the most enjoyable selling I’ve ever done,’ says Gen.
Naomi lives a five minute walk away from the Fairfield Farmers’ Market and is a regular Holy Goat Cheese buyer. ‘It’s the real deal. The cheese is tasty, creamy and very versatile. It’s stylish on a platter served with crackers. It’s conversation worthy and it has never let me down.’
‘I like buying from the growers and seeing that all of my money goes directly to them without the middlemen. It suits my ethos, the produce is always good and it’s worth the money,’ says Naomi.
Sooz from Brunswick is another regular. ‘I love the social aspect of the Farmers’ Markets, I love cheese and chocolate, but I especially love cheese!’
Farmers’ Markets provide around 30% of our turnover, the rest of our cheese is sold through distributors to regional Victoria, Melbourne and Sydney. Selling our cheese direct at markets suits our farm production schedules, but not all market-goers can find our cheese when they want, which is where the distributors, retailers and restauranteurs come into the picture. It’s a healthy business model to have a wide range of outlets, without the monopolies of supermarkets. Besides, we are a farmhouse producer and not geared up to the sort of scale (and low returns) that industrial farms and supermarkets demand. Plus we rely on the expertise and skill of the cheesemongers and restaurant staff to care for our delicate cheeses prior to sale.
Farmers’ Markets also allow us to carry out product development and research without large outlays; to test the market. Eclipse, a geotrichum ash coated cheese, is an example of our market customers tasting – and then buying – a cheese developed with their feedback. We can also respond directly to questions – how to prepare, serve and cut the cheese.
By 12.30pm we will have sold out and begun packing up for the drive back to Sutton Grange, returning by around 3.30pm. This has been the routine, weekend in and out, for the past 11 years, since the very early days of Farmers’ Markets. That’s every weekend, every month, 8 markets, month in and out. Mostly we sell out, or close to. Then it’s the same all over, the next weekend.
But it’s no chore. We love the Farmers’ Markets and not only for the loyal customers we’ve met and got to know. We’ve been part of our customers lives, their joys and sadness. Farmers’ Markets also mean that producers like us are taking marketing and retailing back into our own domain, becoming price makers, instead of price takers.
There’s a vital place for Farmers’ Markets in this country and our farm is demonstrating that you don’t have to be big to be a successful primary producer; small farms that pay heed to the way they produce and market will always have a place in the economy. We think consumers feel the same. From what we see at the Farmers’ Markets, customers are happy to be paying for quality organic produce and most importantly they are happy to be paying us, directly, for it.
Farmers Market Dates: