Four years ago, seafood supplier John Susman was trying to figure out how to best respond to the growing demand for large, meaty mussels by the restaurant and retail trade. ''It was a challenging time,'' he said.
The answer appeared in the form of a French woman one Saturday, when he was selling seafood through his Kinkawooka Mussels stall at the growers' market in Pyrmont. She was thrilled to find a smaller variety of mussels on sale.
''She said she was excited to see the small, cool and sweet mussels she had eaten in France,'' said the seafood industry strategist from Fishtales. ''So we directed our marketing towards French-style mussels.''
Direct customer interaction is a key motivation for farmers to sell their produce at small urban markets, said Mr Susman, who has occupied a stall since the inception of Pyrmont Growers' Market 15 years ago. ''It gave us an insight into what customers wanted.''
Jane Adams, of the Australian Farmers' Markets Association, said small producers could build brand awareness, trial new products and maximise profit margins at farmers' markets.
''It's a very social atmosphere and relationships are made - between the growers, between them and customers - unlike supermarkets,'' she said.
The market, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, has grown to 70 stallholders and opens on the first Saturday of each month.
Steven Adey, from Darling Mills Farm in Berrilee, has only missed one Saturday in the 15 years he has been selling his salad leaves and micro-herbs at the market. ''Having a stall enables me to grow and test a lot of things I might not be able to sell to restaurants,'' he said.
Farmers' markets are thriving because of growing awareness of sustainable production and the origins of food, Ms Adams said.
''Markets tap into people's environmental consciousness,'' she said. ''Less packaging is required, waste is recycled. Also, people can meet the grower and put a face to the food.''
Good Food Month festival director Joanna Savill said it was exciting to see chefs develop ties with stallholders at the market.
''Stefano Manfredi discovered nettles at one of our farmers' stalls,'' she said. ''Giovanni Pilu now uses sheep's yoghurt from the southern highlands at his restaurant, Pilu at Freshwater, after finding the Pecora Dairy stall.''
The growers' market in Pyrmont will host a breakfast and brunch, which will include a big birthday cake, on Saturday.