Byron Farmers Market – Fresh Food and Community Connection
A number of coastal farmers markets have continued to thrive despite the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions. Coastbeat takes a closer look at the Byron Farmers Market and discovers why it’s so important to growers and the communities they serve.
“We started off with 10-12 stalls and all of the stall holders were on the steering committee,” says Mary Pinzone early one Thursday morning from her produce and preserves stand at the Byron Farmers Market. “We played it week by week not realising there was such a demand for fresh, locally grown produce!”
That was December 2002. Almost 18 years on, the markets have grown to become a quintessential Byron Bay experience and a major component of local farmers’ business plans. Tom Carey has managed the Byron Farmers Market for almost five years and also raises cattle and grows passionfruit. He says the local market benefits the region’s many small farms.
“Selling directly to customers cuts out the middleman, so we can improve our profit margin,” Tom explains.
President of the Byron Farmers Market Dave Trevor-Jones from Hayters Hill Farm echoes the sentiment.
“There is a lot of small-scale agriculture in this area, so people are selling here at our market and perhaps one or two others,” he adds. “The size of their farms means that if they were selling through the regular channels, they’d be competing against huge farms from out of the area.”
Craig Evans – aka Byron Bay Banana Man – grows exclusively for the Byron Farmers Market. His banana plantation is one of the smallest in the Byron Shire but says that allows for more sustainable production methods. If the constant stream of enthusiastic customers is anything to go by, Craig is on to a very good thing.
“It’s a busy market and a big outlet for me socially,” he says while weighing fruit and chatting to those in line waiting to buy it. “I spend a lot of time by myself on the farm but once a week I come down here and pour my heart out to all of these lovely people.”
Craig points out that the importance of the market was amplified when the effects of COVID-19 began rippling through the community.
“Here we were: an open-air alternative to supermarkets!”
As restrictions tightened in late March and April, the markets were able to continue operating. The Byron Shire Council lent its support, assuring the Committee of Management that it would do everything possible to keep them up and running.
“We’ve tried to be proactive and ahead of the curve this whole time,” explains Tom. “We’re really pushing sanitiser use at all the stores and social distancing as well.”
The community-building aspect of the Byron Farmers Market cannot be overstated. Dave’s family has been in the Byron Shire since 1881 when his relatives established a dairy at Hayters Hill. His brother has been selling eggs at the market since it began, and Dave joined him a few years later selling beef, chicken and pork.
“Our customers know us, and they know our farm and we’re getting to know them, too,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing for me; having that local connection.”
Barry Roughley from Brunswick Seed Oysters says coming to the markets allows food producers to answer questions and explain their processes.
“We catch and grow Sydney Rock Oysters in the Brunswick River but due to the name, some people think we fly them up from the city!” he laughs. “It’s not widely known, but between pulling the oysters out of the catching frames and bringing them to market is a time span of about three years.
“Selling here directly means we can educate people on this process.”
It’s clear the Byron Farmers Market is providing the security farmers need to pass their business on to their children or new owners. Tom says he’s just welcomed growers who bought the farm of a previous market member who has since retired, while Briana Atkin is at the helm of her family’s business Jumping Red Ant Food Stall today, spruiking vibrant, fresh produce and roses.
“We’re here to stay,” concludes Dave. “We’re member-run so the interests of the farmers are paramount.
“I think the Byron Farmers Market will continue to go from strength to strength.”