Local hero: Willunga Farmers’ Market
Willunga Farmers’ Market was the first farmers’ market to be established in South Australia. It’s now also recognised as one of Australia’s best. Every Saturday, it provides a place for local farmers and specialty food producers to sell their produce direct to customers.
Willunga is located in the heart of the McLaren Vale region on the Fleurieu Peninsula. One of Australia’s premier food and wine destinations, the region boasts an abundance of exceptional produce. It’s home to some of the country’s most passionate and inspiring producers as well as world-class fine dining establishments.
Willunga Farmers’ Market was created to provide a venue for the region’s farmers and food producers to sell fresh seasonal, locally grown and made produce to food-loving locals who care about provenance, sustainability and local food systems. The market began with a small but enthusiastic group of local producers and community members. Opening with just 18 stalls in the car park of the Alma Hotel in February 2002, the inaugural Willunga Farmers’ Market was an instant smash with producers and customers alike.
It was a giant leap of faith, but the market is now a true success story of grassroots sustainable and economic development. It supports more than 80 family farms and artisan food producers, all of whom bring agricultural diversity and fresh seasonal choices direct to the community. In 2019 and 2021, Willunga Farmers’ Market was named as the winner in the Outstanding Farmers’ Market category at the delicious. Produce Awards. This award recognises “vibrant and engaging community-focused farmers’ markets that display true authenticity”. It’s a phrase that captures Willunga Farmers’ Market perfectly.
There for the community
The important role the market plays in the local community was brought to the fore during the first months of the COVID pandemic, when lockdowns, fear and uncertainty reigned. Willunga Farmers’ Market continued to operate throughout the pandemic, with farmers’ markets recognised as an essential service by the government.
When the first lockdown began, Willunga market coordinators set up an online shopping service for members within 48 hours. The service was mainly for those unable to visit the market due to age or health problems. It was an immediate hit.
“People loved it,” says market manager Jenni Mitton. “The first week was a bit of a trial. We just did a dozen orders to see how it would all work. And then from there, we just upscaled the service with some more volunteers. It’s worked really, really well.”
While the online shopping service ensured that vulnerable members of the community could still access nutritious, local food, Mitton also noticed that many people still wanted to come to the market to buy their food. Some past market members even re-joined.
“The fresh producers – meat, bread, eggs, vegetables, fruit – they were just getting absolutely cleaned out every week,” she says. “I think people were a lot more comfortable coming and shopping at the market in the fresh air.
“But I think they were also realising that the core of what a farmers’ market is all about is fresh produce. The extra things a farmers’ market can offer are simply that – extra pleasures like the social gathering, or going out for breakfast. When you take those things away, the market is still there for what it was intended to be in the first place. For people to shop directly from a farmer and buy good food.”
The power of local
Mitton says that the fresh, seasonal produce available at Willunga Farmers’ Market has even changed the way many of its customers eat and think about food.
“They eat seasonally because they buy what produce is available at the market,” she says. “And then they plan their menu around that produce.
“We also have some amazing restaurants around the McLaren Vale region. Lots of the chefs say they get their inspiration for their dishes from produce at the market. It’s another level of local food. When you’re going out and eating in some really top-class restaurants that have sourced their produce from the local market? It’s awesome.”
You can find Willunga Farmers’ Market listed on the new EATIVITY Local Food Directory. The EATIVITY Local Food Directory is on a mission to support the local food movement by connecting consumers with local, sustainable and artisan food producers, growers and farmers right across the country. Are you an Australian food producer who’d like to sign up or find out more? Go straight to the directory or email us at email@example.com