“We have rewritten the agricultural history in Maitland, have rescued farmers, encouraged young farmers to stay on or return to the land, brought fresh food to our community in abundance, and other significant benefits to our local economy,” said Amorelle Dempster, Slow Food Earth Market Maitland Chair, and Slow Food International Councillor Australia & Oceania.
On August 6, Slow Food Earth Market in Maitland celebrated its third birthday, and the evolution from the Great Pumpkin Rescue to the biodiverse and lively bi-monthly event it is today. Chef Amorelle Dempster baked a cake using locally grown beetroots, chocolate, and the Ark of Taste Paterson River oranges, and the market’s 19 producers offered specials and prizes, to thank shoppers and supporters for the amazing three years, and more to come.
The market was born when a local producer, shackled to the large-scale cropping model designed for supermarket distribution, found himself with 20 tonnes of pumpkins that were financially unviable to harvest. Slow Food Hunter Valley stepped up to organize and staff a pop-up pumpkin market in The Levee. Maitland made national headlines when hundreds of people lined up to buy the pumpkins, rescue the crop, and save the farmer. The Earth Market has continued to support local farmers and the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Access to locally grown produce is paramount in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our producers and markets mean that Maitland is fresh-food secure. If the borders were closed, we would feed our population, and more. Earth Markets are the solution to the food crisis we are seeing due to the impacts on international producers and global supply chains. Access is paramount and these markets fill that gap,” said Amorelle.
An offshoot of this was the Community Kitchen – a program that continues to turn wholesome food destined for landfill into literal tonnes of delicious, healthy meals for people in need. Since the pumpkin rescue, the Earth Market Maitland has also rescued mangoes, apples, stone fruit, tomatoes, and broccoli; all instances where the supply chain failed farmers and made harvest financially unviable.
“All of this was born of a desire to deal with a glut of produce and keep good food from going to waste. We’ve seen the preservation, protection, and promotion of biodiversity – an incredible bursting of the variety of foods we are producing right here in our community. And that access to fresh, local produce is becoming normal for our Maitland families. There is a need for small-scale markets and biodiverse small-scale producers everywhere, and the short supply chain of a local market guarantees access for consumers and farmers,” said Amorelle.
The market has grown from the initial three producers during opening day on August 3, 2017, to 19 producers on its third birthday. Local authorities have also joined in support of the Earth Market’s mission, including members of parliament and Maitland’s Mayor, all who cut the birthday cake alongside two young farmers, Tom Christie and Harriet Bell, and the Oldest farmer Austin Breiner.
Amorelle gave tribute to Austin’s vision, who from the start embraced biodiversity, growing local heritage varieties, and encouraging young farmers, like Tom and Harriet, to follow.
“His example has meant that all our farmers, including our biggest vegetable grower, are now using this model and making it mainstream. Today, because of his work, monoculture has disappeared in the farms run by the Earth Market farmers in just 3 years.”
Amorelle also paid tribute to the work of the volunteers who set up, take down, repair, and maintain the market infrastructure, help farmers sell their produce, and assist in any way they can. It is this dedication to local food sovereignty that has made the Maitland Earth Market a success and an example for more initiatives to promote biodiversity and celebrate the hard work of farmers and producers.