Reflecting on a special market

Developing this new website has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about the market and to get to know its special stall holder community. The collective stories of people's businesses has shown how important the market is for the region.

Whilst the Bellingen Growers Market provides locals with a great opportunity to regularly buy fresh organic produce in a beautiful setting, it has also made a big contribution to building our community and local livelihoods.

From what I have learnt, through literally creating a marketplace, the market has fostered the startup and growth of many agri-businesses and other micro-enterprises.

It has been helping to build the local economy for over twenty years. This is important work.

People committed to local, organic farming and food are at the centre of this achievement. They are complemented by other great local micro-businesses.

And the market is where it all connects and comes together - and where locals and visitors experience community.

Meeting stallholders has been both uplifting and inspiring. Many spoke about their journey and what the Bellingen Growers Market means to them.

For example, Maxime from Missing Field Organics, has been supplying the region with high quality vegetable and herb seedlings for many years. She is passionate about this work. Maxime learnt about subsistence agriculture and soap production as a child during post war years on the Jersey Islands. She poetically shares:

"The enjoyment of sowing and growing is most obviously in my genes.
The rush I gain from running my hands over future food... knowing it will feed more than just bodies I don't really know or will never meet.
The labour of love in such is akin to nurturing a child.
All that is the future resides in a single seedling". 

The market is important to Maxime. She says

"I love those Saturday markets, the people most of all ....the huge hugs. My customers are a family extension, they always have wise words, encouragement and never cease to keep me smiling".

The market can also be life changing. Ziyah of Ziyah's Condiments spoke with me about her experience migrating from Indonesia seven years ago. Life in Australia was initially difficult. After some time in Perth, she moved to Bellingen. Ziyah said it was a lovely place but very different to her country and to her home city, bustling Jakarta which she missed very much. She had two children to support and no employment. 

"Being at the Bellingen Growers Markets has been very good for me. The people are very warm and friendly. Sue (Kelly) has helped me with the ingredients, I only use local produce. And now there is a second Bellingen market so I don't need to travel to the Coffs Harbour market any more. It used to cost me in petrol and other expenses of the day. I am very happy to be here".

I found the market gardeners who grow the produce super inspiring. They clearly work very hard to produce fruit and vegetables organically and to earn a livelihood for their families. Up before dawn each market day, they are the heart of what the market is all about. It is vital for their businesses, they need the direct connection to customers and regularity of income that the market provides. 

The market's farmers are champions for organic and sustainable production. This includes a great group of newer family businesses who grow beautiful produce on their farms in the Nambucca Valley (over the ridge from Bellingen as the crow flies).

Leading stallholders, Mandarin Bend and Autarky Farm recently formed a collective, North Arm Farms, growing complementary produce and offering their produce cooperatively online. Requiring weekly outlets for their produce, these growers have also provided support to the establishment of the new Bellingen Farmers and Producers Market which operates from the Bellingen Showground on Wednesday afternoons.

And there are the original organic farming trailblazers. People like Sissy and Peter from Ikaya Farm at Thora, Sue Kelly from Kalang and Paul Hoske from an original local farming family have been growing organically for well in excess of twenty years. As many will tell you, Sue has been the backbone of the market since it started in 2009.

Then there are the businesses that value add produce, making high quality organic and natural products. These include Blushing Blueberries (sauces and dried berries), Bellingen Smokehouse (salmon and trout products), Rolling Hill Organics (divine chocolate), Bien Apiary (bee products) and Soapcakes

There are so many other great local enterprises that make the market a complete experience - the Market Cafe, People of Coffee, Samantha Johnson's shiatsu, Karen Lovell Clothing, Wendy Forbes' Plants, Max's books and of course, the local musicians.

Remarkably, the market is held together by a committee of volunteers who work behind the scenes. They have kept it going year in and year out, dealing with the daily challenges but also looking to the future. Their development of special markets such as the Artisan, Harvest and Harmony Day are increasing what is provided to the Bellingen Shire community, socially, culturally and economically.

The whole thing is really impressive.

The biggest insight I drew from this project was the importance of the marketgoers, the local community. Those that come regularly, meet friends and feed their families with fresh local produce make the market viable and contribute to it being a thriving community activity. It's an ecosystem, the producers need the customers to make it viable to grow, the community needs the growers and producers.

All we need to do now is get the word out there and encourage our community, and the region's visitors, to get behind the markets and buy locally.

It's what Bellingen is all about.

Author: Liz Ryan

Images (from top)

1. Market crowd (Image: Skye Vockler Condon)

2. Maxime Compton (from Missing Field Organics)

3. Ziyah (from Ziyah's Condiments)

4. Kaycee Simuong (from Mandarin Bend Farm, Image: Mandarin Bend)

5. (from left) Lindy Dudgeon (President, BGM Steering Committee), Camilla (Autarky Farm), Skye Vockler Condon, Sue Kelly (Kelly Organics).