To market, to market to buy a …

2007-12-06 00:00

IN principle, I’m all for farmers’ markets. But despite good intentions, I find they start too early and end too soon. And then there’s the problem of rain and mud, and how to keep a rein on two small children without the benefit of a shopping trolley.

But 2,6 kilometres out of Howick along the Karkloof Road, is a farmers’ market to challenge all lame excuses.

Situated on the premises of an old sawmill with ample parking, the Karkloof Farmers’ Market is a highly organised affair, which starts at 7 am and runs until 11 am. All of the trading, except for plant sales, takes place inside an enormous, airy warehouse. This means that, regardless of the weather, the market will go on — a plus for Maritzburgers making the 30-kilometre trek up the hill. Outside, there’s a huge play area, comprising a jungle gym and sand pit, which helps to reduce the conflict that usually attends shopping expeditions with children.

Launched in September by two enterprising young women — Karkloof resident Andrea Gibson and her friend Kim Drennan — the market is well-placed in relation to Howick and surrounding areas, and has quickly attracted a number of regular customers. Many of them are drawn from neighbouring retirement villages which have mushroomed along the Karkloof Road, but the market’s pull is much wider, attracting customers from Howick, Hilton and Pietermaritzburg.

Drennan says that once the decision to set up the market was made and the premises had been rented from Gibson’s husband, Tim, the challenge was attracting stallholders. The partners were keen to put an emphasis on quality, rather than quantity.

“We initially thought of having a purely organic market,” says Drennan, “but it turned out that there was just not enough being produced to make it viable.” But the market still has a strong organic emphasis, and all food and fresh produce sold is grown or made locally.

So far, market attendance has exceeded expectation. “On opening day, we were overwhelmed,” says Drennan. Three-and-a-half months into the venture, she says it is common to have 300 cars pull in on a Saturday morning, especially if the weather is good.

“Vendors tell us that their regulars keep coming back but there is also a steady stream of new faces. Our vendors are benefiting, so it’s great.”

The site was “an absolute mess” when they took it over says Drennan. They quickly set about building the playground and ablution facilities.

Stretches of lawn and banks of indigenous flowers have been planted, which soften the industrial lines of the old sawmill premises.

“It’s not perfect yet,” she says, “but we are getting there.”

Lending colour to the market as you walk in is the stall of Gibson Farm in the Karkloof, which sells a range of well-priced and healthy-looking plants, many of which are indigenous. Vincent Nkosana, who sells the plants, also tends them back at the farm. He says business is good. “When it’s hot, we tend to sell more,” he says.

Just inside the entrance, you can grab a coffee at the snack bar run by Gibson and Drennan or you can venture into the busy depths of the market to explore the full range of take-away food options available around the hall, including Lauren Gregger’s full English breakfast.

Gregger runs an equine rehabilitation facility in Karkloof during the week, but says the market has been a life saver, particularly for her mother, who lost everything when her house burnt down during the fires which devastated the Karkloof area earlier this year.

“Even when the other stallholders are relatively quiet, I’m busy. There’s a nice vibe at this market and people come here for a social gathering as much as for the shopping.”

With breakfast behind you, it’s time to check out the other stalls, which offer all kinds of produce ranging from organic vegetables to sweets, to organic herbs, cheeses and mustards.

Local organic vegetable producers Dovehouse attend the market on most Saturdays and on the day I visit, the stall is staffed by Timia Sanchez and Pippa Crooks.

Sanchez says the farm uses spring water for irrigation, makes its own organic compost and fertilisers and has its own nursery. Dovehouse also makes deliveries of organic produce in Howick, Braeside and Hilton.

I also meet Chris and Sue Coetzer from Marrakesh in the midlands selling their range of mainly goats milk cheeses and chat with Martin Janssen who arrives at the market every Saturday morning armed with Howick-based restaurateur and chef Austean Phiri’s irresistible range of pestos.

Championing the delights of “real” bread is Graham Taute who makes traditional French loaves from his home in Hilton and sells them at the market under the banner of the Wild Bread Co., a name derived from the wild yeast culture used to make the bread.

Making the cold-rising bread is a slow and labour-intensive process which starts around Tuesday of each week with the preparation of the culture. But the results are worth the time and effort and sales are brisk. Taute, who has been making bread for six or seven years, says “people who’ve been to Europe and tasted the bread there get it immediately”. But there’s a growing appreciation of the bread among the market-goers.

Before you leave, you can pick up a bunch of locally-grown flowers at the Foresters Flowers stall where Lizanthus grower Ronnie Ritchie helps to promote local flower growers.

“Supporting local growers is what this market is all about,” says Ritchie. When it comes to flowers, she says midlands growers need to market themselves more effectively. There are enormous opportunities for local growers who are able to supply local florists with fresher flowers at a cheaper rate than national producers.

“If people in the area have a floral product, they are welcome to come and see us here,” she says. “We’re desperate for more growers of flowers like hydrangeas, arums and others.”

• For more information about the market, contact Andrea Gibson at 082 820 8986.

CHRISTMAS MARKET:

A Christmas market will take place on December 15 when the usual stalls will be supplemented by vendors selling interesting Christmas gifts and festive food, so this may be a good opportunity to source presents, a live Christmas tree or simply enjoy the festive atmosphere.

SUPPORT FARMERS’ MARKETS

Why it’s good to support farmers’ markets:

• They dispense with expensive middlemen.

• They cut out the need for long-haul fossil fuel-dependent transportation.

• You go home with less plastic packaging.

• The produce is fresher.

• The face-to-face contact with producers helps to build consumer confidence about the product and the method of its production.

• Increasingly, most markets in South Africa are also putting more emphasis on healthier organic production.

• You get to meet people and enjoy a social outing.

• Local is lekker.

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