Know your sauces and your sources
Your growers are now closer to you than you think. With the growing network of farmers' markets in New Zealand there is every reason to feature local produce on your seasonal menus to reflect the providence of our great land.
I like to think of our mixed fruit orchard as an island in a sea of grapes. With cold winters and dry hot summers, Marlboroughs unique climate saw it produce a delicious patchwork of fruit and vegetables specialising in crops like sweet cherries and pungent garlic before the rise of the wine industry led to grapes transforming the valley into what is now largely a monoculture.
Starting a farmers market in Blenheim in 2001 we hoped that by providing a local food market where the growers are also the sellers and theres no middle man, growers would be able to make a living from a more diverse range of crops.
Id seen farmers markets in the US and liked the idea of encouraging consumers to support local businesses, keeping money circulating in the local community and reducing food miles. With growers standing behind their stalls we could finally ask questions about varieties of plums and pluots seen in supermarkets and labelled only red or black plums.
In Santa Barbara uniformed chefs could be seen walking the rows of stalls pulling specially made carts to hold crates of their fresh purchases, great advertisements for their restaurants local cuisine!
Having a nearby farmers market means we can sell our organically grown plums, blueberries, table grapes and feijoas at their tree-ripened best, get feedback from customers about the varieties they want and were no longer at the mercy of supermarkets and large exporters.
There has been a noticeable growth in recent years in regional food movements food patriotism if you will with the term locavore entering our vocabulary. These same locavores that come to our market in the morning looking for local specialties such as hazelnuts, pinenuts and lime-infused olive oil want to see them as ingredients in meals theyre presented with when dining out in the evening.
Chefs from top local restaurants are regular customers at our farmers market and in the best case scenario relationships can be formed where chefs introduce growers to ideas for new crops that they want to serve and that leads to a new line of food at the market. Several years ago cooking methods for globe artichokes surely took a lot of explaining to customers until a restaurant put them on their menu!
During the winter months a soup competition was held at our farmers market. Each week different chefs would showcase both their talents and the local produce. The grower of Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac found his stock finally moving a lot faster when they were the star of that weeks hot soup. The eventual winner was Dave Anderson from the Bec Spa and Lodge who presented very tasty Marlborough mussel seafood chowder.
Ive become aware of the fine balance between the needs of the two parties when growers and chefs interact. Growers need to be aware that restaurants need a predictable quality and consistent supply of product when they make a seasonal change to their menu and they need to keep costs down. The grower on the other hand doesnt have time to make a whole lot of little deliveries and can get more money selling directly to the public.
When negotiating a supply agreement, chefs and growers should look for a mutually beneficial outcome. Including the growers' brand on the menu eg 'Heavenscent Asparagus with Nutt Ranch Hazelnut Dressing' can compensate the grower for receiving only the wholesale price for the produce.
Farmers' Markets NZ Inc runs a certification programme. A certified authentic farmers' market must have a minimum of 80% certified stall holders; ie they are the grower/producer, the producer is the seller, and the food is produced locally. That is the point of difference and badge of quality.
By Jennie Crum - Windsong Orchard - Marlborough and Committee members Marlborough Farmers' Market
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