food for thought - rants to gourmet traveller july 2020
A few months ago I responded to a handful of questions from Georgie Meredith at Gourmet Traveller about the current state of our food system in Sydney mid-Covid. Since articulating this to someone else I have been thinking about these things non-stop and trying to balance concern with hope for the future be it near or far.
It's been a wild ride in our fields these past few years and the farmers I work with are fathers and mothers working with their sons and daughters on land their families have farmed for generations. They are humble business owners and traditional in their approach and have struggled with years of drought, erratic weather, confused seasons and water supply that has increased in cost and largely privatised by local governments to wealthy often overseas companies.
Behind the scenes this is what has been evolving in our region for a long time but it is reassuring that consumer knowledge is slowly aligning with reality. While restrictions have seen The Locals Market flourish momentarily it's not something I count on in the future. Home delivery is king these days and something I'm not interested in pursuing because I love my community coming together too much.
Anyway have a gaze through..maybe there is something of interest.
Have you noticed an increased interest in produce boxes and fresh deliveries recently?
As soon as lockdowns hit I received a tsunami of emails from people wanting delivery but also finding their way to Paramount House. The market day was forced to change from Saturday to Wednesday morning pickup, so many people are working from home that it hasn’t made any difference.
I’m happy that people are cooking more and eating more vegetables in general and I hope that is something that influences food choices in the future, I constantly receive positive affirmations from my community suggesting so. Everyone should eat more plants and less meat.
My market has always been community focused and I prefer people to visit as I offer a more unique experience than ordering online and waiting for delivery. Taking a walk in the sunshine, grabbing a coffee and pastry from Paramount Coffee Project, walking the dog and still feeling like there is some kind of familiar ritual to look forward to, it’s very important.
Do you think people are becoming more aware of where their food is coming from and how it's actually grown?
I have noticed that people are far more passionate about fresh locally grown food from small producers and what that tastes like. They know it is better for them, better for our local industry, supports hardworking families and has positive environmental considerations. I've noticed recently that less people are concerned with the ‘certified’ label and understand there is more to evaluate than just the certification, like how far food has travelled, when it was harvested and the difference between large and small scale farming.
The ongoing drought made it necessary to share personal insights into conditions their produce was being grown in and the adversity our local farmers tolerate from season to season. Extreme heat combined with no rain and an increase in cost of general water supply meant farms were operating at a quarter of their capacity and consistent quality and availability was definitely affected. Sharing information straight from the farmers really helped in shifting the expectations people had on the pursuit of perfection and their connection with the food they eat.
As a result I think my community were much more sympathetic to how my regular farmers had been affected by the indefinite closure of our Local Growers Market at Flemington on Friday/Saturday/Sunday due to the social distancing regulations and the additional crush of restaurants and cafes closing. I feel like there should have been a lot more support from local governments and political parties to help with distribution and alternative ways to move our local farmer's crops but that’s another story.
How are you guys finding this period? Is it busier?
I am not a big business. I usually operate from 2 market tables on the garden rooftop at Paramount Recreation Club every Saturday morning to collectively feed about 200 people a week in households sustained from my pre-ordered bags, plus anyone who drops by early. In the past month I have fed many more than usual and it is humbling to service the community and help people stay well.
In response to recent changes I have had to move downstairs to the lower ground floor of Paramount House operating from the dim lit foyer of Golden Age cinema, I’ve created a controlled pick-up area next to Paramount House Hotel’s concierge and now offer a drive-by car delivery service whereby people text the market mobile when they are parked outside the building and their order is placed straight in the boot of their car.
In the past month I have definitely reached a point of capacity at Paramount House considering the small space I make the magic happen in and I don’t have the sudden hunger to expand at this location and dilute what I love, it’s unique and it’s important to hold on to that.
Do you think there is more awareness around the seasonality of produce?
We have such a varied cIimate in Australia that it is possible to see a variety of produce available in the big business chains at all times of the year blurring the lines of defined seasonal produce. Additionally some things, for example tuscan kale, are grown all year round now but when I was growing up it was only available in Winter. Avocados have a short season in NSW but are now grown all over Australia and the season is seemingly never ending. Farming capabilities, climate change and market demand have attributed to the less defined seasonality of produce today than in the past but hopefully The Locals Market helps with that.
For those that have a more acute awareness of what’s going on in their local region I think there is a beautiful acceptance and appreciation of the changing seasons and personally experiencing the evolution of size, taste and appearance of fruit and vegetables has intangible value. Everyone loves a benchmark.