Farmers markets are such a part of Byron Shire culture that it’s hard to imagine a time before they existed.
Plenty of local farmers do, however, and by talking to them you soon realise what a crucial role the farmers markets have played in supporting local agriculture and keeping small farming alive.
Take Burringbar banana farmer Lance Powell, a third generation grower who in the early 2000s almost walked away from farming for good. Selling to the central wholesale markets had – as Lance puts it – “squeezed the life” out of him.
He was being paid a pittance for his produce and was disgusted by the wastage generated by the supermarket’s insistence that fruit ‘look’ a certain way.
He says the local area produces smaller, but sweeter bananas than those in North Queensland, but the big markets don’t want them because they’re considered “ugly” fruit.
For Lance the farmers markets came just in time, enabling him to stay on the farm, go organic and make a living again via his stalls at the Mullumbimby, Byron and Bangalow Farmers Markets. Being able to sell direct to the public – who don’t mind a couple of skin blemishes – and to set a sustainable price for his produce, Lance now confident his children will be able to stay on the farm and continue with the business.
Will Everest, a fifth generation farmer at Eungella, says he was forced to find work elsewhere when it became too tough to make a living. The establishment of the New Brighton Farmers market, however, gave him the outlet he needed to get back on the farm and make a living.
“The farmers markets are the only reason we’ve stayed in farming. If it wasn’t for the markets I’d be a builder now, not a farmer,” Will said.