Thursday, November 4, 2010

Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market

I absolutely love the trend towards farmers' markets.  What better way to get fresh, small-scale, locally-produced, often heritage or organic goodies for conventional supermarket prices?  The farmers must be loving it as they can sell for at or close to retail rather than being over a wholesale barrel.  Why shouldn't they benefit directly from the trend towards low food miles, sustainability and organics?  Yes, there is a bit of frou-frou but if you buy wisely you can still stay within budget.

The most venerable farmers' market circuit is the Veg Out/Collingwood/Gasworks/Convent workhorse.  It is a fabulous market - big and varied - but if you live in the west, it doesn't feel sustainable to drive for 30 minutes on a Saturday to do your local/organic/heritage shopping.  There's been a few local farmers' markets around here but none have impressed me.  Recently I heard about the accredited farmers' market at the Showgrounds though, so last rainy Sunday we headed to check it out.

The Showgrounds market is just five or ten minutes' drive from Footscray, just over the river in Ascot Vale.  It's in one of the pavilions.  It is run in association with the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and has been accredited from the get-go.  Accreditation is important - it's your guarantee that everything is grown or produced by the people selling it.  The Victorian Farmers' Market Association accreditation process is rigorous, too.

Gorgeous fruit and vegies!  We are in a local organic collective which buys bulk quantities of organic/biodynamic produce from the wholesale fruit & vegie market and via a members' roster system, sorts and delivers the seasonal bounty at cost price.  Therefore I could only admire the goodies here today as my fruit & veg box had just come on Friday (although I did give in to some cut-price organic asparagus).

We always run out of fruit, though, so everyone was so excited when we found the apple-and-pear man.  These apples are so good.  They are a delightful size - not the bowling-ball behemoths you sometimes get - and are truly fresh and crisp.

Oh happy day!!  Free range, old-style pork from King Valley Free Range.  The Baklovers have recently decided to commit to free range pork and chicken.  It is more expensive but we have decided to reorder some priorities.  The conventional farming methods for these animals are pretty horrific.  It's a good decision and we are really excited about it.  We don't eat much meat anyway and to balance the budget, are going to try using less meat again - putting one chicken thigh through a whole pasta sauce, instead of having a piece of grilled chicken per family member plus pasta on the side.

The haul!  Grass-fed snags (on special for $5), 500 g free-range pork ($13), a dozen free range googs ($4), 10 biodynamic kiwi fruit for $3, asparagus "seconds" for $6 and $17 worth of chemical-free apples and pears (about 3.5 kg).  We got the Sunny Ridge jam for free for answering a survey.  Score!!  My only complaint is there was no chicken but I see on the website that Yapunyah Meadow Grazed chicken had a week off and is back this weekend.  Unreal - fingers crossed they sell chicken bones.

The Showgrounds Farmers' Market website is really nice with a great community feel.  They have a membership program, "The Weekly Carrot", which for $50 per year you get free parking (normally $3), free craft activities for the kids (10am-11am, I believe) plus other bonus goodies.  King Valley Pork was giving away a packet of vin cotto pork sausages with purchase for every member.  This is a great little market, but it is little.  Get on down there and support it - hopefully with more attendees it will continue to grow.  See you there next weekend!

Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers' Market
Federation Hall, Showgrounds (access via St Leonards Crescent, off Langs Rd, Ascot Vale) (map)
Hours:  Every Sunday, 9am-1pm

Wheelchair Accessibility
Access:  Uneven, partially graded carpark but otherwise smooth ramps everywhere.
Layout:  Plenty of room to manoeuvre.
Bathroom:  ?


  1. We're planning to hit it this Sunday. Good work on the accreditation aspect! And the prices seem pretty good, too!

  2. 2 comments in one week! I also went there for the first time on Sunday. I thought it was great, everyone from the stalls were so lovely and happy to chat and help with any questions you had. My only (very minor) gripe was the size of it as well - i didn't know whether that was due to the weather or if that is the normal size of it. The king valley rack of pork i bought was awesome and would go back just for that. Oh and thanks for the tip on the veggie garden book - will definitely give that a read!

  3. Love the concept of food miles, sustainability and ethical food. Thanks for posting, I should check out gasworks market next rounds since it's close to my home.

  4. awesome! I'm going to have to check them out! and if it's every sunday I don't have to plan it! yippie!!

  5. Oh my heavens!! I spent all today reading academic journal articles about Farmers Markets as I'm looking at doing my PhD on locavorism/local food, and your opening paragraph almost epitomises some of my key thoughts after doing the reading! :D

  6. You say "The farmers must be loving it as they can sell for at or close to retail rather than being over a wholesale barrel."

    No we're not. Do your sums on how much is sold at any stall at, say, the Showgrounds Market. It doesn't come near to justifying a day off the farm. It is only certain sorts of small producers who can make it work for them. We've gone back to farm gate sales direct to the public - the way our family has done it for three generations - sa well as shipping direct to the wholesale market where in turn the goods are on sale at the Footscray Market or the Vic Market the same day in a much more efficient and environmentally sustainable way.

    Organic Pat

  7. I have been a couple of times but it lacks variety. I do drive 30mins to the other farmers market. But yes, we should support our local.

  8. Interesting comment, Organic Pat. I'm by no means slavishly adherent to small markets, let alone the organic concept, which sometimes seems pretty nebulous to me. And unlike some of my friends elsewhere in the world, in many cases I think there's little difference between my local fruit and veg guy and the local organic shop. Except price! :)

  9. Hi all and thank you for your comments. Organic Pat, I should qualify then and say SOME farmers must be loving it. I defer to your first-hand experience within the industry but as you say, certain small producers can make it work for them. For example, King Valley Free Range Pork sell to a few restaurants in their local area but otherwise are exclusively at farmers' markets. Otway Free Range dominates the free range pork market including Hagens Organic Meats who have outlets at Vic and Prahran Markets, so arguably without the farmers' markets this particular small business would have struggled to find an opportunity to sell its produce. Likewise I believe that often farmers' markets offer an opportunity to small farms that are just starting up and are awaiting organic or biodynamic accreditation, which to my knowledge takes a long time.

    So while they perhaps don't work for every farmer out there (and indeed every consumer) they evidently work for some, and offer both the consumer and the farmer choices about how we trade, and for the choice I am personally very grateful.

    (Hannah, grist for the PhD mill!!)

  10. I knew about this farmers market, but I never really had the urge to give it a visit. Untill I read your review! Just got back, quite a nice place, loved the bread man out the front. Met the Italians from rose creek, they were on food safari awhile back. All in all, fun morning and it was all thanks to you. Your blog is fantastic by the way, I live in sunshine and theres not too many blogs about the west.

  11. I love farmers markets - so much better than waxed and tasteless supermarket fruit

  12. This is actually one of the farmers markets a haven't been to, probably because it's a fair way from my place, great that it's open every week too.

  13. Anon - thank you! Some more blogs that are either local or regularly feature the western/northwestern suburbs are:
    Kenny at
    Billy at
    Penny at
    Deb at
    Phil at (although he has not posted anything local for a while)

    Food lover, yes indeed, so much better - you know some of those apples in the supermarket are months and months old, having been in cool store for ages?

    My Restaurants - it is so good it is open every week - no planning!

  14. Is it wrong that apples are so old? I thought they're a bit like spuds and able to be stored. It's more the lack of choice I hate. I miss, from NZ, the cox orange variety.

  15. Thanks for the tip :) We went on Sunday and got some lovely looking pork sausages (I don't eat meat but I feel so much better about my partner buying his 'essentials' straight from the farmers than from the supermarket) and two bunches of big, juicy asparagus for the vego. Can't wait to see what treats summer brings!

  16. Thanks for mentioning our gorgeous pork! I agree with organic Pat! The Showgrounds is not yet sustainable for us, but we love our customers there so much, we are willing to continue as this awesome market builds momentum!

    Just a note on Otway pork - it is *bred* free range, which means the pigs are born outside, but grown inside. They are also a commercial pink pig and will never have the flavour of heritage breeds, such as we and other small scale producers grow!



  17. Hi Elizabeth and thanks for stopping by. How interesting that you agree with Organic Pat! Farmers markets are often condemned as a "wank" which I have never understood. To the untrained eye they seem nothing but a good thing - producers want to sell, consumers want to buy - let's meet and cut out the middleman!

    It would be very disappointing if farmers' markets are merely a conceit of citydwellers who want a taste of the country and a feelgood moment while the farmers who are selling the goods are losing out.

    Anyway, the pork mince was gorgeous! Half went into gyoza and the other half stirfried with noodles and broad beans. Yum yum!

  18. I was agreeing with this : "Do your sums on how much is sold at any stall at, say, the Showgrounds Market. It doesn't come near to justifying a day off the farm. It is only certain sorts of small producers who can make it work for them."
    I am a small producer and some markets do work well for me. I think the more established markets, such as the Collingwood Children's Farm are excellent. It takes time to build up to that level that's all. It is exhausting prepping for a market with my product as I must cram it all into 3 days. I not only look after the pigs and the farm, but also pack the meat at the butcher shop in town and also personally make all the sausages, terrines, rillettes, ham and bacon. I do this because I love it, but it is a lot of work. Travelling 3 hours one way to a market is also time consuming and exhausting, and I do worry about the environmental impact of this and food miles. I love coming to city markets because consumers are so aware and so excited by my product, it really makes my heart sing and makes it worthwhile! The down side is that people can be fickle and a rainy day, or a hot day, can deter them from the market; never mind that producers have made the effort to come! Mind you, this happens more at rural markets than Melbourne-based ones!

    I am glad you enjoyed the mince, the flavour of this pork is wonderful!



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