This is a guest post from Cath Isakson. Cath moved to Tasmania in April 2012.
In southern Tasmania, you can buy fruit and vegetables at the larger markets, or explore farther afield and buy fresh from the farm.
It was a My Kitchen Rules ‘water-cooler’ moment. Matt and Mick, the two Tasmanian boys, were accused of having an unfair advantage. With access to the fresh produce of Tasmania, how could they not do well with their instant restaurant?
Somewhat ironically, when I first arrived in Tasmania I couldn’t find any greengrocers. It was puzzling. Had the big supermarkets killed off the smaller shops? Were vegetables being shipped off to the mainland? Or did Tasmanians simply hate eating their greens?
What I discovered was, things work a little differently here in southern Tassie.
With a little hunting, I found alternatives to the supermarkets. Stores such as the Fresco franchise have sprung up to fill the gap left by greengrocers. With all the charm of a supermarket, they are hardly appealing destinations. I also discovered a few ‘gourmet’ outlets like the Lipscombe Larder in Sandy Bay and the Hill Street Grocer in West Hobart.
While these gourmet outlets are wonderful, to shop there on a weekly basis would break my budget.
To market, to market
My first revelation was that Salamanca Market is not just for tourists. Many locals do their weekly fruit and vegetable shop there. Farmers trickle in from the rural areas surrounding Hobart – Old Beach, Richmond, Margate and beyond – to sell their fresh produce. The Hmong community is noticeable among this group. Ever since they arrived in Tasmania as refugees in the 1970s, they’ve been selling a diverse range of fresh vegetables at Salamanca Market.
Organic produce can also be found at Salamanca Market and also at the newer Farmgate Markets. These are held on Sunday mornings in Hobart, and on Saturdays, across the bridge in Bellerive. On their website you’ll find a handy list of what’s in season. This is because fresh produce in southern Tasmania is most definitely seasonal. Just like on the mainland, you can buy bananas in the supermarkets at any time of year. But if you’re happy to stick to seasonal produce that’s locally grown, you’ll find quality fruit and vegetables at the weekend markets, and at a few other, unexpected places.
Pop-up shops and roadside stops
In Tasmania, we’re lucky. Fresh fruit and vegetables are still grown close to the major population centres. This means you can easily source produce direct from the farmers. Last December, fruit farmers set up ‘pop-up shops’ in empty shops and along the main roads. These sold cherries, berries and sometimes stonefruit . How did the quality compare to fruit on the mainland? The cherries in particular were delicious – plump and firm and very tasty. Even better were the prices. These ranged from $6 to $10 a kilo.
Last Summer, hand-drawn signs began to appear on country roadsides — put up by farmers spruiking their produce. I discovered one enterprising farmer in Bagdad (Tasmania) this way. He was selling a huge variety of produce direct from his farm along the Midland Highway. A box of homegrown fruit and vegies — enough for two people for the whole week — cost $9.
If you prefer to buy from the larger producers, the Fruit Growers of Tasmania recently published a fruit ‘farm gate guide’ (you can download this at their website) – a list of members who open their gates to the public when fruit is in season. At the Sorell Fruit Farm, you can even pick your own fruit and enjoy a snack at an onsite café, and at the Westerway Berry Farm you can buy jams, syrups and berry-flavoured icecream.
Neighbourhood buy and swap
In my town, I’ve discovered a network of locals who sell or swap their surplus homegrown produce. This can be a deal done over the back fence, or via community markets. The Big River Growers Market, sited in the charming old nurses’ quarters in Willow Court, New Norfolk runs on Saturday mornings from December to April. Green-thumbed home gardeners sell garlic, pumpkins and potatoes and the obligatory (for the Derwent Valley) berries and jams.
Another great place to buy homegrown produce in the Derwent Valley is at Bushy Park, a twenty minute drive out from New Norfolk. Open from 10am to 2pm, seven days a week, the Bushy Park Community Market is an old hall full of trash and treasure. It’s also good for homemade jams, eggs and seasonal fruit and vegetables. I’d say the jam made by the Bushy Park locals is the best I’ve tasted, ever.
Food miles vs food smiles
It’s easy to forget how much of our produce is imported. Buying oranges imported from California or kiwifruit shipped in from Italy seems a little ridiculous. As well as the food miles, I always wonder how fresh and healthy these fruit and vegetables really are.
Looking out of my window, I can see a field of raspberry canes growing in the valley below. Come Summer, I’ll be eating the fruit from those very same canes. Last weekend I swapped our homegrown potatoes for a big bag of broad beans, and last night I bought carrots, tomatoes and eggs from an enterprising older lady down the road.
Living in a semi-rural location like New Norfolk allows me access to the best Hobart has to offer, as well as the best that rural Tasmania offers. I’ve discovered the pleasure of heading out of town on the weekend — not just for a country drive but also to buy my fresh fruit and vegetables for the week!
Have you experienced great farm produce in Tasmania? Tell us about your favourite place for buying the freshest (and cheapest) fruit and vegetables!