16 January 2019

Market growers keep their cool in a scorcher

| John Thistleton
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Capital Region Farmers Market has plenty of fresh produce, despite the drought. Photos: Supplied.

In the searing heat the region’s food producers, their pickers and irrigation pumps are working doggedly to keep Canberra well supplied with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Summer storms have given growers brief respite, and so long as their water supply holds out, they will continue selling at Capital Region Farmers Market at Exhibition Park, North Canberra, and Southside Farmers Market, Woden.

Some operators are turning up the heat too, with a new farmers market to open at Thoroughbred Park, North Canberra, next month.

Tumut businesswoman Nancy Tolchard is opening on February 2, after checking several potential sites.

“It is easy to get along with the management, they are fantastic to deal with,” Ms Tolchard says.

She plans to begin with an artisans market on Saturday morning, farmers market in the afternoon and from April, a foodies market. “Vendors will have a choice of either three short markets or an all-day market,” she says.

She has 20 stall holders and is looking at more submissions while finalising paperwork including insurances and a food safety certificate.

A Capital Region Farmers Market spokesman says the market welcomes more genuine regional producers to Canberra. “The more Canberrans that shop at farmers markets, the more producers and farming families can be supported which is good for the region,” he says.

Regarding the ongoing drought, the spokesman says growers doing it hardest are relying on irrigation as dams and other sources dry up.

“Producers running stalls at the markets are a resilient bunch and you’ll continue to see quality produce coming through at competitive prices,” he says.

“Our advice for smart market shopping is to eat seasonally. Base your recipes on what you can see at the market, and use Australian cookbooks which match our seasons.

“The best way to support a producer in a drought is to keep consistently shopping with them and take a moment to talk to them – they appreciate the simple fact that you care about them and their family business,” the spokesman says.

An orchardist from Batlow, Wayne Skein, who bought the Southside Farmers Market in 2016, continues selling his apple and ginger juice and produce at Southside. Mr Skein has built up the market to 80 stallholders which open on Sunday mornings at Canberra College in Launceston Street, Phillip.

Southside Market owner Wayne Skein with his fresh apple juice.

Southside Market owner Wayne Skein with his fresh apple juice.

Mr Skein says producers are not large-scale operators supplying bigger markets, which helps them combat dry spells.

Meanwhile, south and north of the ACT, fresh food producers and their irrigation systems are under the pump keeping up with demand for fresh produce in Canberra.

Cooma producer Donald Smith who sells to the north and southside markets from his farm on the Numeralla River says his deep-rooted asparagus struggles in the drier weather.

But bore water running through a mini sprinkler keeps his shallow-rooted blueberries thriving, providing plenty of work for six pickers including backpackers and customers.

He received 50mm of rain during a storm on Friday night, and growing at an altitude of 850m provided ideal cool nights. He expects blueberries for the next six weeks.

At Brayton north east of Goulburn, Luke Bartlett is using twice as much water as normal to keep his potatoes and pumpkins from wilting in the heat.

Brayton grower Luke Bartlett.

Brayton grower Luke Bartlett.

“It’s tough, for sure,” Mr Bartlett says, but not as harsh as three years ago.

In the sandy soil at his place, the potatoes turned rubbery because they were literally cooking in the ground.

He says potassium and nitrogen need to be kept at optimum levels because of the heat stress on his vegetables.

Irrigating from the Wollondilly River, he says he is burning through additional diesel to keep the pumps going for the sprinklers, but water was not an issue. “I’ll run out of money before I run out of water,” he says.


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