Words: Denise Irvine | Photography: Alex Spodyneiko

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.”

At Belk Road Farm stall, Londoner Joe Montalto is six months into the market, and a solid supporter. He sells fresh basil, coriander, rocket, salad mix and more. Sequential planting will see him continue to supply through winter. “I feel so blessed to have this as my local. It’s amazing. I sell out most days.”

Customers share the love. Regular shopper Lynn McKenzie buys fruit and vegetables that she doesn’t grow at home, and she enjoys her breakfast ritual of maybe something spicy from the Samosaz stall, or a treat from The Pastie Truck.

Alastair and Diana Melvin, and friend Te Weu Jobe, have been market supporters for years, relishing the abundance of local foods that have been grown or made with care. They queue each Saturday to get in early for their favourite things. They know the stallholders and the stories behind the produce.

Says Te Weu: “I like to cook Mediterranean; I buy things here that are so fresh and not out of a packet. It’s a friendly, happy place.”

Alastair thinks produce prices are probably on a par with other outlets. If some things occasionally cost a little bit extra, he says it’s absolutely worth it because of the work that has gone into it.

“It fairly reflects that the food is usually spray-free and sustainably harvested, cared for by people who are thoughtful about their products. They are specialist producers who perform a great service.”

Footnote: Our dinner at the bach on this night was almost entirely market produce. The glorious sweet corn from John and Mary Beddows’ Garden Fresh stall almost had people fighting over the pot.

  • Geoff Oliver’s favourite way with his Flavour Queen mushrooms (simple as anything): Saute some chunkily chopped portobellos in butter with finely chopped onion, plus a splash of soy sauce for saltiness. Add a little water and cook until just tender. About five minutes. Thicken with cream mixed with a little cornflour. For extra decadence, add a touch of brandy. Cook a bit longer. Great with chicken, fish, or anything.

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