Cool Banana's Lance and Georgia Poweel at the Bangalow Farmer's Markets.
Cool Banana's Lance and Georgia Poweel at the Bangalow Farmer's Markets. The Northern Star

Market growth shoots along

FOR Burringbar banana grower Lance Powell, the Bangalow Farmers' Market and the Byron Bay Farmers' Market are great for business.

“Our customer numbers are growing steadily each year,” Mr Powell said.

“And for me, I don't have to worry too much about the appearance of the fruit, as I explain to people what is on the skin does not affect the internal quality of the banana.”

Byron Bay Farmers' Market began eight years ago and the Bangalow Farmers' Market, four years ago.

Unlike big business affected by the economic downturn nationally or worldwide, the farmers' markets are booming, with stallholders reporting a steady increase in sales since they kicked off.

“Regardless of external factors, our trade is growing all the time,” Mr Powell said.

“It's all part of the 'buy local movement', with the community supporting local growers.”

Heather Armstrong, of Coopers Shoot Tomatoes, said she and her husband Hugh began growing tomatoes on her husband's family farm at Coopers Shoot 10 years ago.

“We used to send them to the markets in Sydney and Brisbane, but our profits were very slim after taking out freight charges,” she said.

“We were going to give up, but when we started selling our tomatoes at the farmers' markets at Byron Bay and Bangalow we started making some money.

“We started with two hot houses. Now we have six and we sell out of produce at the Bangalow, Byron Bay, Lismore and New Brighton markets.”

Mrs Armstrong said their sales had increased 25 per cent over the years.

“People know they can get fresh produce because we all pick our produce the day before the market,” she said.

Blair McPherson, of Fisherman's Bounty, sells smoked trout at the Bangalow and Byron Bay farmers' markets and said his trade had boomed so much that he was having selling the business so he could downsize his operations.

“I bring the trout up from Buxton Trout Farm in Victoria and the people up here can't get enough of it,” he said.

“We also make four varieties of pate with herbs and chillies we grow ourselves.

“We used to go to the Gold Coast Markets, but our sales have increased so much at the Bangalow and Byron Bay farmers' markets we don't need the Gold Coast any more.”

Mr McPherson said that as an offshoot to use waste from the fish processing he created nibbles for dogs and cats called Mutt Munchies and Moggie Sprinkles.

“We are now supplying them to stores and pet shops throughout Queensland,” he said.

Mike Burless, of Newrybar, grows potatoes and sells them at the farmers' markets. He said he used to sell the potatoes to local stores, but since he started selling them at the markets he found he loved the contact with his customers.

“I have ended up creating friendships with my customers because they come back every week,” he said.

Mr Burless said 95 per cent of his customers were local people, with very few tourists.

“The produce is fresher and it tastes better,” he said.

Bangalow Farmers' Market manager Donald Recsei said local markets helped sustain local agriculture.

“Local farmers can continue to be economically viable because they can sell locally without being screwed by major chains,” he said.

“Locally-grown produce helps preserve the diverse varieties that are grown because the major supermarket and food chains demand only a certain variety of vegetable, so growers only grow that and other varieties die out.

“Then if there is a disease that wipes that vegetable out we are in trouble.

“It is also more economical for the buyer because our prices are competitive with the big stores and the produce lasts longer because it is fresher.

“And it just tastes so much better.”

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