Wednesday 3 May 2017

A Cruising Sailor's Guide to Farmers Markets

 Markets in the traditional form are a gathering of food artisans and crop growers at a set time and place where they offer their produce for sale. Traditional markets have existed since the birth of civilisation and still occur right around the world to this very day. These markets reflect their local culture and economy. Their size ranges from a few road side stalls to city blocks. In many places they are often the beating heart of the community and a daily activity.

Karen provisioning in the market at Alore in eastern Indonesia.

In Australia, the modern farmer’s market is not all that removed from the medieval village market day. Yes you now may be able to wave a piece of plastic over a machine to pay for your goods these days rather than handing over copper coins but much remains the same.

Brisbane's Manly Harbour Farmers Markets were a favourite of ours during our time in East Coast Marina.

They are typically held at outdoors on set days and farmers still stand at tables under temporary marquees selling seasonal fruits, vegetables and meats straight from the field or paddock. Today's format will see these traditional elements plus you’ll usually now find prepared foods and beverages along with a mix of clothing, art, craft and original unique items reflecting the region. Like the minstrels of medieval times that frequented markets, there is often also a line up of local entertainment to enjoy. Weekend markets are the most common, although some markets are held monthly rather than weekly.

Like most Australians, in our BC (Before Cruising) life, a trip to a farmers’ market was far more about recreation rather than obtaining food. Yes, we’d impulse buy a few things that tickled our fancy but the main grocery shopping had already been done on the weekly bag drag around a sterile supermarket in the suburbs.

That all changed when we sailed through South East Asia where we found traditional markets were almost exclusively our sole source of fresh food. Coming from the world of highly sanitised, pre packaged, everything at a one stop supermarket, it takes a while to come to grips with the whole Asian food market experience.

In this polar opposite world you wander from stall to stall down crowded open air laneways picking the freshest and best looking examples of what is available and bargain the price down to something you’re willing to pay. Sometimes the range is good, other times you can only choose from fifty stalls all selling water spinach, chillies, green bananas and not much else. Fortunately in most places we were able to stock up with a good selection of fresh provisions.

Asian markets can be a culture shock after being accustomed to the sterile world of western supermarkets
The first time we experienced the open air fish and meat market we couldn’t believe anyone would buy the stuff. Before long though, we came to realise that the food we ate in every little restaurant we patronised through the islands had come from a market just like that and we hadn’t died yet. So buy the fish with the clearest eyes and freshest smell, the seller of the freshest fish usually has the best squid too. Feel and smell the prawns. You can tell which ones are fresh and which were caught days ago. When it comes to meat, your best friend is your nose. It doesn’t lie about any state of decay.

Following this practice we cruised for almost three years before suffering a bout of food poisoning, and believe it or not, Karen picked that up at a five star restaurant in Sicily we went to as a special treat to celebrate our visiting friends 20th Anniversary. We have never been sick from market food - yet.

We were huge fans of open markets during our time in the Mediterranean.

We learned that it doesn’t matter whether your sailing in Asia, the Mediterranean or the Australian coast, local markets are THE best place to get the best food. As cruisers there is nothing better than arriving into port to find a colourful bustling market selling fresh farm produce, flowers, breads, artisan products, meat, fish, poultry, plants, organics and food related objects. Whether artisan-made or freshly sourced from the earth, paddock or dairy, enjoying the freshest local produce while supporting the local community, allows us as cruisers to replenish provisioning and soak up the local community vibe.

We have found when cruising in remote areas that the markets are much more of the traditional style. In some villages and towns the fruit and veg market is held in the morning while a separate seafood and meat market occurs in the afternoon at a different location.  As a result, provisioning in these remote areas can sometimes be a long process. A host of other events are often tied into these market days as this is when most people come to town.

While Australian farmers markets are more of a recreational pursuit for most people they are fantastic for cruisers provisioning a boat. They’re also a great place to find out what is happening in the region you are visiting. Stall holders are normally quite willing to pass on information about the things to see and do in their area.

Buying direct from local growers means that you’re purchasing your food from the experts, and you have the opportunity to ask questions about how different foods are grown and how best to prepare them. This is a wonderful way to be introduced to foods we would be unlikely to find in supermarkets. I remember the first time I was introduced to “Chocolate Pudding Fruit” or Black Sapote. It was at a local market in North Queensland, still to this day I have never seen it in a supermarket, but this wonderful fruit is on the top of my provisioning list as soon as we enter tropical waters. The stall holder was knowledgeable on how to prepare this delicious fruit that I otherwise would probably have walked right by.

Buy up big on your fresh produce as the fruit and vegetables comes direct from the field or orchard to you and will not have been held for who knows how long in cold storage.  Market produce will last much, much longer on the boat than the supermarket version.

Many cruisers are also practising artists onboard. Whether it be visual, craft or author, markets can also provide the opportunity to sell and promote your wares as you travel. With forward planning you can ensure timely arrival in port to participate and sell your wares.

Along Australia’s east coast the scheduling of these markets is quite regular providing many opportunities for cruisers making the winter trek north to enjoy the tropical sunshine.  

We have produced an ebook which will be available soon FREE on Amazon that lists all of markets we know of along the coast in NSW, Qld and the NT.

We also have produced it as a pdf document which you can save or print. Just click on the link to open it. We hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your feedback in the comments section below.


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