Why have farmers markets seen such a lift in popularity over the past ten years in Western Australia particularly?
We are living in the digital age. And that has both pros and cons. We are now more connected through device with more computing power in our pockets than put man on the moon in 1969 (and before all you smartphone users marvel at your purchase, your device would not be reliable enough to survive the radiation of deep space that the moonshot requires) and but more disconnected in terms of human interaction than ever before.
As a society, we know less and less people involved in farming. In generations previous we would have cousins or other family members involved with farming. Go back even further, and you would have known the person in the village who produced good eggs, or milked the cows or had the best bacon. You knew the person that was giving you the goods, their identity.
It also is inline with the economic fortunes of a country. As a country matures and establishes itself over time, parts of the population centralise to the city for work (and typically higher paying jobs) leaving the land behind. Those that remain embrace mechanisation as a means to get the work done with less people. And as terms of trade begin to erode, the farmer turns to automation to reduce cost further therefore even less people need to be employed by.
Australia has become a nation of city slickers. According to the Australian Food History Timeline website, in 1901; 14% of the entire Australian population was working in agriculture. By 2011, that figure had dropped to 1.4% of the entire Australian population working agriculture.
This city slicker mentality has a flow on effects to maintaining our biosecurity in this country. Biosecurity are measures that keep the country safe from pest and disease that can affect our plant life and animals and also aids in maintaining our “clean and green” image around the world.
The population largely doesn’t understand why bringing food and other fibre products into this country from other territories poses a threat to our primary industries. It could be an insect hiding in that teak mask that means Australia gets banned from exporting or where a farm loses its entire income due to a disease outbreak.
We have lost the link with the land. We don’t know or understand where our food comes from. Now enter the farmers market. It’s a place where you can go down and meet a farmer and have a conversation with them about… well anything. But you certainly get an insight into where the food comes from.
The best part for the consumer, is that personal connection with the grower and the social currency they feel when they buy the farmers produce. That feeling of appreciation that they put money directly into the pocket of the farmer, the person they were just speaking with, not the corporate shopfront where they largely don’t get a conversation with anyone that can help them connect with anything.
Lets take a different example. Tony Gallati’s Spud Shed operation has been massively popular through no small part due to his public persona. His down to earth appearance, replete with Bonds blue singlet and his repetition of the company tag line of “We Grow It, We Sell It, You Save” goes a long way to creating connection with the audience. The fact that you see him in photo and video montages of being out in the field also helps build the identity of someone that picked the produce just for you.
Farmers in general do an outstanding job of meeting the demands of the supply chain. We have seen this demonstrated during the bushfires and the COVID19 pandemic.
And this is where the wider farming community needs to take a greater cue from what happens at farmer markets.
If you are visible in what you do, people will connect with who you are as an individual and will want to support the work you do.
However, for many farmers in broadacre, its hard to be individual recognised when your product is sold bulk. However there is many new initiatives looking at these farmers who are the unsung heroes of food production.
We all have a part to play in maintaining the viability of our primary industries and now is the best time for WA Farming to capture the hearts and minds of Western Australian people to buy and eat locally grown and made products.