Buy local at its freshest

Australia’s only Earth Market is thriving in the heart of Maitland.

Twenty tonnes of muddy pumpkins deemed unfit for wholesale were the catalyst for the launch of Maitland’s Slow Food Earth Market.The locally grown pumpkins, still utterly delicious on the inside had become slightly mud damaged during Maitland’s 2016 floods.  

“The wholesalers wanted the farmers to wash them and polish them,” Maitland Earth Market Chairwoman Amorelle Dempster explained.  “As you can imagine, it’s impossible to polish 20 tonnes of pumpkin before sending them to market”.  

Amorelle, together with the Slow Food Hunter Valley group (which she previously led) just knew they had to step in and do something to prevent the entire crop of pumpkins being ploughed into the ground.  The local Slow Food Movement members approached the Maitland City Council about creating a pop-up pumpkin stall in the middle of town.  

“We asked the council to tell the media about it. We wanted to bring as many people as possible to support the local farm and that’s how it all started,” Amorelle said.  The pop-up stall at The Levee in Central Maitland had an overwhelming response. The entire crop was rescued with more than 2,000 pumpkins sold in just one day.

From a pop-up stall to joining a global network  

The success of this project galvanised Amorelle and the Slow Food Hunter Valley group to start Australia’s first Slow Food Earth Market. There are around 65 Earth Markets across the world with several of those based in Italy where the Slow Food Movement first began.

Earth Markets are essentially community-run farmers’ markets that follow the slow food philosophy.  “They’re the gold standard for markets based around protecting food biodiversity and working with small-scale farmers to provide good, clean and fair food for everyone,” Amorelle said.  There are strict guidelines for those wishing to sell their produce at the market.  

“You have to be the farmer, you have to be there to sell it, you have to farm within a 100km radius, you have to have good practices and produce the food as cleanly and fairly as possible,” Amorelle explained.  

“From that point of view the Earth Market has got a lot of integrity.”Strong principles are key  Maitland’s Earth Market officially began in 2017 with three farmers. Now, 15 farmers are regularly participating. Countless more have applied to be part of the much-loved and celebrated market, but Amorelle is diligent about only accepting farmers and producers who are able to uphold the Earth Market’s strong principles.  

“We started off with a produce stall once a month. Then, officially in August 2017, we became part of the global network of Earth Markets. We’ve got a really good committed group of volunteers to run the market and the farmers don’t need to pay anything because the council let us use the Levee”.  

The market now operates on the first and third Thursday of each month from 8.30am until 1:30pm at The Levee Shared Zone in Maitland.

Story by Nathalie Craig, photos courtesy of Maitland Council

Read more in the Spring issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.