Sometimes when Heather Taylor serves dinner at home, she’ll say to her husband John, “Everything on the plate is from the farmers’ market.” It could be fish, baby carrots, beans, broccoli and potatoes, and it sounds as pretty as a picture.

Heather is a regular at Cambridge Farmers’ Market. She shops each Saturday for the week ahead, stocking up with fish, vegetables, meat, jam, pies, eggs and more. “It’s just a routine; I’ve got my list, money and shopping bags. I love the laidback atmosphere, and the feeling of community.”

She especially likes the produce from Pirongia Mountain Vegetables: “Their broccoli and baby cauliflowers are beautiful.”

Heather missed the market when it couldn’t operate during the various Covid-19 lockdowns, and on occasions she drove out to Roto-o-rangi, near Cambridge, to buy free-range eggs from stall-holder Mike Alexander. Nothing else is as good as market produce, she says. She appreciates the spray-free ethos that abounds, and also knowing that the vegetables she cooks each night are grown locally. “The market does a really good job.”

It’s a comment echoed many times on this weekend of asking the “shop local” loyalists what brings them back to the sister farmers’ markets at Cambridge (Saturdays at Victoria Square) and Hamilton (Sundays at Claudelands Events Centre). High on the list of answers are sustainable practices, authenticity, great people and produce.

Judy Keane and daughter Annelise Keane are Claudelands’ supporters and today they’ve got bags of vegetables – lettuce, zucchini, garlic chives, cucumber – and a few extra treats. Like Heather, they love the spray-free produce, the variety of goods, and the friendly feeling among stallholders and customers.

Annelise says the market is very affordable, everything is fresh and it is all in season. “Being able to talk with growers or producers is really good, too. They know their products so well, and different ways of using them. Having this available every weekend is awesome.”

Annelise makes pesto with basil from The Lettuce Man, she likes Suncakes Gardens’ vegetables, and artisan goods such as coffee from Manuka Brothers, cheese from Over the Moon and Dream Cheese, handcrafted chocolate from Fruney, and meat from Soggy Bottom Holdings.

Her mother Judy also enjoys Volare bread’s baked goods, seedlings from Mrs Greenjeans Seedlings, and today they’re checking out goodies at Your Baker, a recent addition to the Claudelands line-up.

“Pretty much everything is amazing,” says Annelise. “And we like how they have managed the Covid-19 situation so well, at all the different levels. There has been a structure and it’s been very consistent.”

Another Claudelands regular, Paul Cowen, is shopping for himself and his wife. Paul eats with the Waikato seasons, he grows most of his own vegetables and he tops up at the market. On his list today are peppers, sweet-corn, garlic, milk and coffee beans.

Sometimes he’ll add a little extra: “I’ll see something like the blueberries, they are a really good buy.” And he likes the local honey.

Paul is a former market gardener, and he understands the effort that vegetable growers put into their work. “They have a passion for what they do. They get up early to be here, and if you looked at their hourly rate, there’s nothing in it for them. But you can’t buy the satisfaction of growing healthy, spray-free vegetables. And these vegetables are one hundred per cent healthy.”

Dana and Jason Hussey say they’re not super-regulars. But they like supporting local; they live within walking distance of Claudelands so they pop in when they need extras. They’ve shopped this morning at the Volare stall and they’re lining up for Roto-o-rangi Free Range Eggs from Mike Alexander. They buy a dozen of his beauties, drop off a couple of empty egg cartons, and they’re disappointed to hear that Mike – a market stalwart, loved by many – is retiring.

Across the aisle, Mark Fyers is selling his father Clif’s watermelons; he runs the stall in the melon season from January to March, and customers are lining up for this seasonal specialty. The melons (red and yellow) are grown by Clif in Coroglen, on the Coromandel Peninsula, but before that he was in Ngāruawāhia and that’s where loyal melon man Dale Kahaki first bought them.

Dale’s come to Claudelands today with son Reed, 11, to pick up his weekly order of five watermelons. He discovered Fyers’ melons about 10 years back when he saw a trailerload of them for sale on the side of the road at Ngāruawāhia. Dale is a police officer and he says he stopped his patrol car, bought a couple of melons, and he’s been hooked ever since.

He has developed a solid relationship with Clif and Mark. When he became ill a few years ago with lymphoma, they made sure he got his seasonal supply; Dale says they even dropped melons off to him when he couldn’t pick them up himself.

“There are no other melons equal to what these guys do. And they’re good roosters, good people. I text them each week to put five aside for me, and I usually give one away. I love them. They’re a highlight.”

Dale’s top tips for eating melons: “They’ve got to be chilled, and I always eat the pips. Life’s too short to cut out the pips.”

Everyone I talk to has their favourite stalls and stories, like Jing Chen and Dan Gothorp, and children Phoenix, 9, and Cooper, 7, who are heading for Soggy Bottom for meat and tasty handmade pies from Jono Walker. “He has such a good selection,” says Jing.

The family also buys Manuka Brothers’ coffee, vegetables from Suncakes, organic blueberries (Monavale), and treats from the likes of Mavis and Holy Crepe.  And after Labour Weekend they are regulars for Kane’s Strawberries.

They find the food very affordable and also mention the appeal of spray-free produce. They also like buying from family owned businesses. Says Jing: “It feels great to put this on the table for the kids.”

Which seems like the best kind of endorsement.

 

  • The markets are always on the lookout for new stallholders, especially with fresh seasonal produce and fruits. Check the ‘Join’ page on the market website for more details. waikatofarmersmarkets.co.nz

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