For you: Stall holders at the last markets, on election day. Photo: Lidia Nikonova
To market, to market. Fifteen years ago, we couldn't. Now we can. And that changes everything, from what we cook this weekend, to the world as we know it.
The inaugural Growers' Market was a one-off event held as part of the 1998 Good Food Month. A lineup of small marquees overlooking the water in Pyrmont Park. The plain truth is that it was desperately needed. Adelaide had retained its Central Market, and clever Melbourne still thrived on its mighty Queen Victoria, Prahran, South Melbourne, Footscray and Preston fresh food markets, but Sydney lost its inner city market to Homebush in the 1970s.
Finding artisanal produce from small-scale producers was a schlepp through traffic hell all over town.
Then suddenly, the best and most interesting small growers and producers in the Sydney food bowl all came together in the one glorious spot. By the water. In the sun. With coffee!
The Growers' Market was built by the vision of people like Ross Muller (then deputy editor of the SMH and founder of Good Food Month), the whingeing of people like me ("why can't we have a fresh food market like Melbourne, huh, can we, huh?") and the organisational powers of event co-ordinator Andrew Birley.
Almost everyone's basket that first day held bunches of herbs from Steven Adey's Darling Mills Farm, a hunk of Farmgate cheese and a dozen freshly laid free range eggs from Pope's. I saw one couple stroking pink fir apple potatoes as if they were little kittens. People looked happy; that special brand of happiness that comes from connecting with like-minded people over good food while eating smoked salmon rolls for breakfast.
The Sydney Morning Herald called the Market the most exciting event of Good Food Month and "the one with the most power to change the way we eat". We pushed for it to become a permanent part of Sydney's food culture, writing a manifesto that set out our aims:
■ To strengthen the link between grower and consumer.
■ To support small local farmers who don't fit into the mainstream market system.
■ To show our kids what it's like to taste freshly picked vegetables.
■ To have fun wandering about with a basket working out what to have for dinner.
■ To bring life, colour and movement to the heart of the city.
■ To remind ourselves of the value and goodness of fresh, honest, natural, unpackaged produce.
By 1999, the Growers' Market was a regular event, held on the first Saturday of every month, as it is today. As festival director Joanna Savill notes, it has instilled a market culture into the way we eat and cook at home. "Knowing the producers and what is in season, and being guided by them on which cheese is best this month; learning about real raw honey, unwaxed apples, and seasonal greens such as nettles and tiny cavolo nero is a no-brainer really," she says. "It's food education in a very fundamental way, and a great tribute to the market's pioneering role."
Steven Adey of Darling Mills Farm has been turning up with his freshly harvested greens, cresses and leaves, rain, hail or shine for the entire 15 years. "I still love the markets" he says. "Despite early mornings and a substantial workload, we keep coming back, for our loyal appreciative customers, a good coffee and interesting chat."
It's thanks to all our pioneering stall-holders and the long-serving French's Forest Organic Markets, that Sydney now has a flourishing market culture, from the fabulous Eveleigh Market at Carriageworks, to those at North Sydney, Taylor Square, Bondi Beach, King's Cross, the Entertainment Quarter at Fox Studios and the newly formed Parramatta Farmer's Market.
There is a certain in-built fragility, however. If people don't buy, the producers won't survive, and we could yet lose everything. So go out of your way to support them, fill your basket and have a chat with the growers and producers.
Come on Saturday for the 15th birthday, and pick up avocados from Bob's Farm, olive oil from Rylstone or Pukara, organic meat from Redleaf Farm and the iconic hot porchetta roll from Feather & Bone. Try something new - saltbush lamb, Kinkawooka mussels or warrigal greens. More than a great day out, you'll be part of a powerful community-led movement - and your cooking will be inspired. Home again, home again, jiggety jig.
See how they run
To celebrate 15 years of The Sydney Morning Herald Growers' Market, there's a party planned. Saturday, October 5, Pyrmont Bay Park. Free entry, 7am-noon.
The market is held the first Saturday of every month.
Matthew Evans (the Gourmet Farmer), Good Food columnist Jill Dupleix, Regional Restaurant of the Year Biota Dining's James Viles and Martin Boetz (The Cooks Co-op) take to the Market Chef stage for a very special morning of demonstrations, talks, tips and food. Plus coffee from Harvey Norman's expert barista team.
● 8am - Breakfast with Gourmet Farmer's Matthew Evans and Farmgate rare-breed pork.
● 9am - Brunch with Jill Dupleix and free-range produce from Feather & Bone.
● 10am - Brunch and cake with two-hatted chef from Biota Dining's James Viles and Rowie Dillon of Rowie's Cakes.
● 11am - Lunch with The Cooks Co-op's Martin Boetz and Mandagery Creek venison.
Tickets: $35 per person, per session. Ticket includes 45 minute session, breakfast/brunch/lunch dish, tips, coffee and Growers' sample bag.