Robert Gasparre shares what’s on offer at our local farmers’ market, and we find that what was once a humble little produce market is now a popular attraction going from strength to strength.
Hi Robert. Tell us your family history and what brought you to Armidale …
I was born and raised in Sydney by Italian parents. I have always been interested in having some space to grow things and initially my wife, Sarah, and I moved to the Blue Mountains. However, we wanted more of a country environment and after much looking around at different areas, decided that Armidale has it all. It is not too big and not too small and has a great climate.
We now have a house and 5 acres in Invergowrie. It is ironic that we moved to Armidale for the quiet life, but have become so involved in different things that it is hard to find the time to develop the acreage to its full potential – but things are moving forward slowly.
When and why did you first become involved in the Armidale Farmers’ Market?
Sarah and I always enjoyed going to the farmers’ markets in and around Sydney. When we got to Armidale, we missed this and decided that the only way to change the situation was to start one ourselves. We also recognised that there were limited opportunities for producers, especially small ones, to sell directly to the public in the local area.
Looking back, we are amazed that we pulled it off. At first, it was difficult because you need to have enough stallholders to interest people to visit the market, but you need to have enough people attending the market to attract stallholders.
We have some very loyal stallholders who have been with us since the beginning.
It is exhausting and it takes up a large chunk of time, but it has been rewarding to see it come together and, other than when the alarm clock first goes off at 4.45 am on market morning, we are happy that we did it.
How is the market going these days?
The market is going from strength to strength. It has a really nice relaxed atmosphere. It is somewhere that people can come down to on a Sunday morning, grab a coffee and a sausage/steak sandwich or croissant and have a wander.
Sometimes we may have a busker playing music, and we have our market regulars who often meet friends for breakfast at the market before doing their shopping.
One thing that the market has become renowned for is its baked goods. We have a number of stalls making excellent cakes, biscuits and a range of sweet treats.
I like to think that people can host a hassle free afternoon tea by picking up a lovely range of things from the market in the morning.
Describe the types of produce grown in this region …
Armidale has a great climate for growing many types of fruit and vegetables. Some plants need a winter chill to perform their best.
One of the reasons for setting up the markets was to provide a place for producers to sell their product. We hoped that by providing a place, it would also inspire more people to start growing food. They do not need to be large scale producers; some of the most popular stalls sell vegetables and fruit they have grown in their backyard.
Locally grown produce is hugely popular, and there is really room for people who are interested to get involved.
Some of the things that are grown in the region are potatoes, stone fruit, apples, pears, berries, olives, garlic and salad greens.
We also have a stall selling goat meat (they make wonderful sausages) and another selling free range grass fed beef, pork, chicken and ham.
How can both locals and visitors assist growers?
The main thing that people can do is to support growers by buying their products. This encourages them to keep going and also encourages other people to grow. Obviously not everything is available at the farmers’ market, but it is a good place to start. Come down and see what is available before you go to the supermarket.
The farmers’ market is constantly changing from market to market. With the different seasons, different produce is available. Sometimes we get a ‘one off’ stall where someone has a glut of something.
In this respect, it is never boring, and you never know what you will find.
We have started up a Facebook page to try and let people know what is going to be there … but sometimes it is a surprise, even to me …
How do you spend market funds?
The main aim of the market is to have enough income to pay for insurances, advertising, licence fees etc. It is important that the market is financially self supporting, but at the same time we want to keep stall prices to a minimum .
Thankfully, we have managed to achieve this balance, and we have almost recouped the initial investment we made in the market. We are not aiming for or expecting any profits out of the market, but we would like to donate 50% of any profit that is made to the Armidale Community Garden.
What other markets do we have in Armidale?
The other market in Armidale is the wonderful ‘Markets in the Mall’, which is on the last Sunday of every month.
While some of our stallholders attend both markets, we have a very different focus to our market.
While the ‘Markets in the Mall’ have a wide range of different stalls, our primary focus is on produce and home baked goods.
We also have the ‘car boot sale’ element to our market, to help sustain the market at times when there is not as much produce available.
People who have second hand goods they want to get rid of can have a car boot sale as an alternative to having a garage sale. I often suggest to people that they book a stall, bring down their unwanted stuff, sell what they can, and donate anything left over to a charity such as St. Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army.
Why would visitors enjoy our markets?
We find that visitors like to experience something that is unique to where they are visiting.
Also, food is a big part of the travelling experience. They can sample some food at the market and then take something home as a memento from the trip. This may be a jar of jam or preserves, olive oil, biscuits etc.
The market is on the first and third Sunday of every month in Curtis Park.
The only exception is the first Sunday in January, when the producers take a well deserved break.
To keep up with market news, people can ‘Like’ us on Facebook.
This interview was found in issue 68 of New England Focus