Otago Farmers Market looks to the future with succession planning

Farmers Market 8.jpg Quiet market… Customers and vendors return for the first day at the Otago Farmers Market in Dunedin on Saturday morning. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH

Grow the growers is a new initiative launched by the Otago Farmers Market in an effort to address a drop in the number of produce growers. Sally Rae, rural editor of the Otago Daily Times.

It is a national, even global problem.

Although there has been much talk about it, those behind the resounding success of the Otago Farmers Market are determined to do something to ensure continued access to locally produced food.

The Otago Farmers Market Trust is ready to mentor and support existing or prospective growers to ensure succession planning at Dunedin’s weekly market.

Until the recent sale of his property, trustee Rod Philip farmed just north of Palmerston on land his family had owned since 1923.

He took over from his parents in 1980 and took up asparagus farming at a time when the government was encouraging farmers to diversify away from sheep farming.

Palmerston Asparagus has grown over the decades, primarily with door-to-door sales and supply to restaurants and businesses in Otago.

For around 15 years he was a seasonal vendor at the market, but his recent retirement meant that the days of the asparagus man – as he was affectionately known – were over.

As he and several other growers retired, he worried about the lack of young vegetable growers.

Trust chair Sharyn Crawford said it was an issue she had long been aware of.

It was not unique to Otago, but a problem across the country and, indeed, the world.

The market was part of the Farmers Market New Zealand network and market manager Michele Driscoll had raised the issue on behalf of the trust, but no one else was offering a solution.

Crawford said there was no Ministry of Food in New Zealand; no one was watching “how we are going to feed the people of this country”.

So what the trust was doing was seeking a conversation with new and existing producers to ensure the market remained an accessible incubator for those who wanted to connect with consumers and support the local food system.

It was an established market, but the reality was that people like Philip were retiring and there was no succession planning in the business.

The proliferation of housing and lifestyle blocks, on what was previously food crop land on high quality soils around the city limits, had been well documented.

The market had something to offer, but there was a disconnect.

Some people seemed to have preconceived ideas about the market and what it entailed, so it was a question of how to get the message across, she said.

There was a process that had to be followed, to see if they were suitable for the market, and some didn’t realize the market engagement.

But the market was open to conversations with anyone who thought what they were doing — or considering doing — might have value. And it can be of any scale.

It was a farmers market, which meant it was about produce, which is why it stuck to the principle of having mostly produce there.

The process for anyone interested in becoming a supplier was to approach the market and engage in conversation with them and hear their story.

“We want to visit them and have them show us what they are doing so we get an idea of ​​the extent of what they are doing and if there is potential for scaling up,” he said. she declared.

There were so many great stories to tell about vendors including Waewae Permaculture, Caithness Farm, Kakanui Produce, Oamaru Organics, Willowbrook Orchard, Brightside Microgreens, Ettrick Gardens and Janefield Paeonies and Hydroponics.

While growers had to have a reasonable volume to make it worthwhile, the market was very open to change and changing times, Crawford said.

There were lots of reasons why people didn’t show up and she had spoken to some growers who only had a small amount to sell.

There might be a way to make it worth it for them.

Driscoll said seasonal vendors are accepted.

There was no need for a year-round commitment and it was possible for several producers to join together.

She said the market would not survive if it lost those customers who came in every week to buy their staples.

Other “luxury” value-added or ready-to-eat products could not survive without it.

Philip, who was happy to be a mentor, said his involvement in the market “makes farming fun”.

When loading products onto a truck to send them to market, there could be a conversation with the truck driver, but there was no relationship with the customer.

“That feeling of connection with customers is really great,” he said.

And there was also a disconnect for a lot of people now about how food was grown.

Regarding the attributes of a successful grower, he cited Nigel Clark of Oamaru Organics as “checking all the boxes”, including growing vegetables on world-class soils, investing in machinery and having relationships with customers.

Crawford said there are other benefits to being in the market.

Many vendors had expanded their businesses and now also delivered to restaurants and cafes.

Sellers of value-added and ready-to-eat products were also encouraged to use the products of their fellow merchants.

The trust believed there would always be a strong push for food tourism as well; publications mentioning Dunedin have consistently highlighted the Farmers Market as one of the city’s top 10 attractions.

Next year the market would celebrate its 20th anniversary, which was a “very big achievement”.

He had developed a very established reputation and brand, she said.

It was also about preserving rural livelihoods while it was also a very important community space for people to connect, with some staying for several hours while they chatted with others, she said. declared.

“How do you put a value on that? It’s just massive,” Philip said.

James V. Payne