In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the waves of people sourcing their food in a truly local sense has led to people returning to farmers’ markets in Canberra in droves.
After thousands of people flooded the inaugural Haig Park Village Market at Braddon two months ago, the Capital Region Farmers Market at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) has credited support from Canberrans for the part they have played in keeping local and regional farmers, growers and producers afloat during the pandemic.
Hayley Abbott, from Narooma Seafood Direct, says the Saturday market at EPIC comprises almost all of the NSW South Coast business’s income, and the relationship with Canberrans is well worth the distance they travel each weekend.
“The Capital Region Farmers Market has been completely necessary for us – it currently makes up almost all of our income,” she says.
“We’ve had to change and adapt. We’ve cut back the number of days we fish and how much we catch so we have just enough for the Farmers Markets. Without them, we would be in a world of hurt.”
Run by the Rotary Club of Hall, the Farmers Market at EPIC, in Lyneham, quickly became an essential service during a time when Canberrans needed access to fresh produce, or even homemade teas and chai.
It began in 2004 with 15 stalls and about 850 customers, and has since grown to about 100 stalls that welcome many thousands of customers each week.
Now, numbers are returning to pre-COVID-19 levels, which Capital Region Farmers Market manager Sarah Power says is also attracting new stallholders.
“The community support we have seen has been astounding,” she says. “With locals continuing to visit and buy from our market on Saturday mornings throughout the pandemic, the livelihood of our farmers, growers and producers has been safeguarded.
“Many of our farmers were hit extremely hard in 2020, first with drought, then with the devastating summer bushfires, hail and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a credit to them that many kept going, to be there for the Canberra community during what was a hard time for all.”
The nearby Haig Park Village Market at Braddon, which has been operating every Sunday since the beginning of February 2021, has also been warmly welcomed by locals and local businesses.
However, wet weather on Sunday, 21 March, meant organisers had to cancel the market for the first time.
Haig Park Village Market director Alex Webb says after the ACT Government deemed the area as suitable for a regular farmers’ market, the support has been outstanding.
“The support for the market from locals in the area has been there from the start,” she says.
“We’re seeing lots of return customers and great demand from people who are really educated about sourcing their produce locally, and not necessarily from the big supermarkets.”
That supply chain has also created a flow-on effect to local businesses in the Braddon area who have noticed an increase in foot traffic on market day.
“I think people really want to reduce the food miles of their produce, which means our suppliers can pick their food later,” says Alex. “It’s fresher and the money goes directly to the farmer.
“We’ve also been seeing a steady flow of people all day, which has been great for local businesses in the area who have all said they would welcome a farmers’ market here.”
The Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets has been an institution in Canberra for decades, while other markets such as the Southside Farmers Market on Sundays and the Southern Harvest Farmers Market in Bungendore every Saturday have also made their mark in the region.