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Tauranga Farmers’ Market

In the summer of 2005, someone told me about the fledgling Tauranga Farmers’ Market. It was described as a handful of produce stalls on Arundel Street and my informant was a bit dismissive. She said there really wasn’t a lot to choose from.

The market—which had started two years earlier—had just moved to Arundel Street from its earliest patch at Tauranga Historic Village, and it was indeed a handful of stalls clustered each Saturday morning in the grounds of Tauranga Primary School. But there were more fresh pickings than I’d been led to believe. The Bay of Plenty is my summer holiday home, and each Saturday that year our family loaded up with excellent German rye bread, corn, eggs, avocados, lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers and fruit.

I’ve loved watching the market get bigger and better, in its perfect location. A great atmosphere and friendly spirit is a hallmark of this food feast where local growers, farmers and artisan producers sell their wares directly to customers. I reckon it’s one of the best of its kind.

This year, it celebrates its 16th birthday, and in mid-summer, I spent a morning with manager Trixie Allen, talking about the market’s longevity, its people and its wares. The place is humming; there are 59 stalls crammed with produce and products today, and there could be close to 2500 customers.

Trixie—clad in a yellow high vis vest—talks and walks. She’s in her 11th year as market manager, and prior to that she was a stallholder, selling tomatoes grown on her family’s property at Bethlehem.

She says the market’s strength lies in its age and personality. “It comes down to building relationships, between stallholders and customers, and between the stallholders themselves. It is a team effort, a family effort. We’ve still got foundation stallholders, there is a solid core that has been here 12 years or more, and there are new ones coming on board. The market provides a sturdy umbrella for everyone. They work hard all week for this.”

We meet some of the stalwarts, and some of the newcomers. Everywhere there is goodwill and good things to eat: melt-in-the mouth Dutch croquettes at Deana Spee’s stand; my favourite breakfast cinnamon scrolls at Flaveur Breads; gorgeous raw milk cheeses from Katikati’s Mount Eliza; honey from the Kaimai Range crew; chutneys and vinegars from Mavis Allan at Milly’s Fine Foods. And we’ve hardly scratched the surface.

Original stallholders include Welsh couple Mary and John Beddows, selling vegetables grown on their Welcome Bay property; Te Puna citrus-growers (and brothers) Neville and Selwyn Norman; Geoff Oliver of Flavour Queen mushrooms (portobello and oyster, see recipe); and Lyn and Linton Jenner, at the Kaimai Lettuce stall.

Lyn recalls coming to the early markets with a couple of crates of their fancy lettuces. Nowadays, their ute is packed with many, many more crates. “We’ve loved watching it all grow, seeing new products available. We enjoy our regular customers, and the stallholders become friends.”

Neville Norman says the same: “You get to know your regular customers by name. I’d miss this if I wasn’t doing it.”

Says Geoff Oliver: “The public support and loyalty is incredible. The stallholders are very grateful.”

There are plenty of newer faces among stallholders and, as Trixie Allen says, this is part of the market’s strength, building for the future. The Abundant Backyard stand is brimming with vibrant vegetables from Whakamaramara. They’ve been supplying the market for close to two years, and Brazilian owner Silvio Maffra says they are close to organic certification. “I love this market, and the people.”

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