26 Nov 2023

Shout from the rooftops, says farmers' markets rep

From Country Life, 9:13 am on 26 November 2023

Farmers’ markets in New Zealand need more support from local authorities and government, a farmers' market advocate says.

In other countries, like Italy, authorities increasingly rely on weekly farm-to-fork style markets as a way of ensuring people are fed, especially in times of crisis, according to Farmers' Markets New Zealand chair Jono Walker.

Walker went to a meeting of the World Farmers' Markets Coalition in Rome this year and told Country Life mingling with attendees from as far afield as Alaska and Ghana felt like being part of one big family.

Jono Walker, Farmers' Markets NZ chair

Jono Walker, Farmers' Markets NZ chair Photo: Supplied

It made him realise how important farmers’ markets are and how seriously they are taken elsewhere.

“They are not just a fun thing, where a few people turn up to sell a bit of nice food at the weekend. 

“It's a way that people can eat more locally, more sustainably, tastier food, but also food that's going to be there for sale every week and not be affected so much by these extreme climatic events.” 

He said market organisers here needed to “shout from the rooftops” about their market’s authenticity and importance.

Farmers' markets representatives gather at the World Farmers Markets Coalition meeting in Rome in 2023

Farmers' markets representatives gather at the World Farmers Markets Coalition meeting in Rome in 2023 Photo: Supplied

How to operate in a pandemic was also an experience shared at the Rome meeting of the coalition which was set up in 2021 with funding from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a UN agency. 

Unlike in New Zealand, many farmers' markets overseas were deemed essential and still allowed to operate during lockdowns.

“It makes a lot of sense, knowing what we know now that outside spaces are much safer.

 “The frustration was not being able to even get to speak to someone, any higher than sort of MPI, who were very helpful, but we could never get near any sort of government ministers to discuss this issue.”

More than 1000 market-goers turned out to show their support for the Riccarton Bush market on Saturday.

A farmers' market in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Walker highlighted Italy’s approach to farmers’ markets which receive strong support from local authorities and farmers throughout the country. 

Selling local food to local people is ingrained in the culture, but people are increasingly reliant on them, he said. 

“Their union of farmers got together behind local markets, and they've developed a chain of about 1200.”

In many countries, markets are crucial to building trust between farmers and highly urbanised consumers, not such a big problem in New Zealand, Walker said.

He said they play a valuable supportive role in the food system, amid a global food system described as broken by UN chief Antonio Guterres.

And Walker pointed out allowing crafts and cooked food into the mix, as in many New Zealand markets, can be problematic. 

“I think farmers' markets need to be taken more seriously, particularly by the government and I think they need to understand that a farmers’ market is a market that only sells food and it's sold by the producer.

“It's an outdoor, local supermarket, really.”