Where many only see disaster, Amorelle Dempster finds opportunity.
Four years ago, as a founding member of Slow Food Hunter Valley, she was horrified to learn that tonnes of storm damaged pumpkins would be ploughed into the ground, as they were unsuitable for market.
Using her strong marketing skills, Amorelle negotiated with Maitland City Council to sell the pumpkins at a pop-up stall at The Levee in Central Maitland. People rallied and the pumpkins found their way onto plates across the local community.
The pop-up stall seeded the idea for a Slow Food Earth Market. Today the market boasts 19 stalls offering turmeric, honey, eggs and a range of seasonal vegetables with a mushroom grower soon to be added to the mix.
Growers follow the Slow Food philosophy of “Good, clean and fair food for all”. High in quality and flavour, the food production doesn’t harm the environment, consumers pay a fair price and producers work under fair conditions and receive fair payment.
My visit to Maitland coincides with the twice monthly market and I wander from stall to stall chatting to growers who are happy to share their knowledge and expertise.
Nine-year-old environmentalist Millicent from Blue Boat Farm helps her mum Melissa Fogarty. She wears a hospital mask with hand-written slogans in written in black texta announcing her commitment to the planet. I buy a compostable bag of freshly picked snow peas.
Lucie Bruvel from Shepherds Ground points out her five different varieties of garlic. She explains how to know when garlic is ready to harvest. My friend’s crop should be ready in a couple of months, but right now it “needs a bit of sea salt to help it along.”
The Lorn Grower, Liz Francis, explains that her venture into slow food started when her husband had a stroke. He began growing food in a section of their garden. She sells his produce including fresh eggs and lemon butter. My bag is getting heavier.
The turmeric in my cupboard is the dry powdered kind. At John Clarke’s “Within Radius” stall I find bottled pickled turmeric, pickled chilis as well vinegars and other specialty products.
With a paper bag filled with soil encrusted potatoes, a pumpkin, a Romanesque from the broccoli family (the first I’ve seen, never mind bought) and ruby grapefruit added to my purchases, it’s time for me to meet Amorelle Dempster.
A passionate woman who grew up in Sri Lanka, Amorelle explains how she always ate fresh food as a child. After moving to a farm in the Hunter Valley, she was shocked to discover that she couldn’t buy local produce. Farmers only grew for the wholesale market.
Practicing biodiversity on her own farm, Amorelle, became a co-founder of Slow Food Hunter Valley and today leads the Slow Food Earth Market Project. She explains that the market supports small scale growers and “is run by volunteers who aim to protect the food system and reduce food waste”.
Amorelle describes how the farmer saved by the pop-up pumpkin stall only grew five different vegetables and “was at the mercy of wholesale agents”. He now grows 30 different varieties and sells to Peter Gilmore at Sydney’s Quay Restaurant.
More than 70 percent of slow food earth farmers are aged under 40 compared to the average Australian farmer who is over 60. Young people committed to reducing their impact on the earth are returning to the land and the locals of Maitland are the beneficiaries.
Other initiatives stemming from the Earth Market are a seed library and a meal distribution program. People wanting to grow veggies at home can access seeds for free and then after the growth cycle they return seeds to the library for others to use. At the launch in March over 500 people signed up to ‘borrow’ seeds from the library.
Volunteers convert surplus produce donated by growers into meals for locals who have difficulty putting food on the table. Working with OzHarvest, they distribute over 4000 meals each year.
The Earth Market has had a positive impact on the community. Amorelle says “the shopkeepers love us as we bring people to the Levee”. The market serves as a meeting place. People stop and chat. They wave and greet one another. There’s a happy feel in the air.
- The market is on the first and third Thursday of the month from 8:30am to 12:30pm
- You’ll find the market at The Levee, Maitland
- There’s easy access
- Parking is available in nearby Council Car Parks
- Bring your own bags
- Enjoy a coffee or meal in one of the nearby cafe’s
- Read more on Maitland and Morpeth here