Monday, April 6, 2015

Farmers Market Review: Slow Food Melbourne Farmers Market - Melbourne, Australia

Second in a series about farmers markets visited during a three-week stay in Melbourne and Tasmania. Oh, the memories...

Chock-a-block with good food at Slow Food Melbourne's Market.
Of all the farmers markets I visited in Melbourne, the Slow Food Market stole my heart. The Queen Victoria Market may lie in the heart of the city steeped in history and with no shortage of good food, but it is difficult to beat the charm and atmosphere of this monthly market. Set on the grounds of the historic Abbotsford Convent, the market offers seasonal fruit and vegetables from organic, biodynamic, forest and permaculture growers and producers. Chocolate, meat, fish, pesto, honey, jam, and more baked goods than should be legal in one setting rub shoulders with seedlings (flowers, herbs, vegetables, and perennials), hummus, and eggs. And that’s just a taste of what’s available at this friendly event.

More than ants in your pants...
My husband and I arrived about an hour after the market opened to find it already busy with shoppers coming and going through the gate in the stone wall surrounding the convent. We paid our $2 per person donation and stepped into what can be described as a festival of fresh food. Everywhere we looked stalls overflowed with food, customers and good cheer. We ambled around the grounds admiring apples and squash (it is fall now on this opposite side of the world), ducking under arches and around corners of the old buildings, and I felt as though I’d landed in a fresh food version of the Ludlow Food Festival.

Oh, delightful pears...
Part of a series of markets accredited by the Victoria Farmers Market Association, the rules are that only the grower or producer can sell. It shows in the camaraderie and quality. Queen Vic is big and wonderful, but this market showcased the benefits of small and intimate. Customers spent time talking with the growers and producers sorting out recipes, tasting varieties,or asking about growing methods. More than one baby was passed across a pile of fresh produce or table of carefully stacked honey to be cuddled and admired, and I overheard more than one “So, how’s your family?” This was shopping, but it was also community. Growers and producers chat with their customers and the atmosphere is undeniably festive even on a gray day that threatened rain.

Dr. Marty and those amazing crumpets.
We spent a fair bit of time chatting with Dr. Marty, a chef now immersed in the crumpet business, and his wife. As we munched and asked questions around our toasted-to-order crumpets, we were amazed to hear Marty had only been crumpeting for 18 months. “He made crumpets for one of the businesses he worked for,” said his wife as she toasted a pair of crumpets for another customer, “and then made them at home one night. I said, 'Oh, these are really good. You’ve got something here.'” Marty’s crumpets can be found at a few cafes around town, but the markets are his mainstay. 

“The markets are where we started. It’s a great way to see if your idea will work,” said Marty. As I wiped a stray drop of melted butter from my chin, I felt quite certain his idea was working. 

We sat down for breakfast from the Convent Bakery, one of eight permanent cafes on site, to quiet our still-growling stomachs. We lingered over cups of strong coffee, thick slices of chicken and veg quiche and perfectly moist coconut macaroons (because a good cookie is hard to find and macaroons are one of my favorites.) We felt slightly envious of those who lived here.

Never enough apples for me...

I struck up a conversation with a nearby group of women enjoying a coffee, surrounded by their day’s harvest. One of them had a collapsible shopping trolley I admired. I’d seen similar versions at nearly every market we went to over the course of our week in the city, and asked if I could take a photograph. The wheeled frame unfolds to support two wire baskets that she rolled about from stall to stall. 

The collapsible trolley.

“This is one of four markets we go to every week,” she said as I snapped my picture. “We’ve been coming about ten years. This is one of the best.” I couldn’t agree more. 

Abbotsford Convent
Fourth Saturday of every month
8am to 1pm

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