Community, Culture & Sustainability at Noosa’s Iconic Farmer’s Market
“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.”
– Giada De Laurentiis
By Michele Sternberg
If you had to choose just one quote to describe Noosa’s iconic Farmer’s Market, this would be it!
Over its 20-year history, Noosa Farmer’s Market has been many things to many people: a food source, a tourist attraction, a meeting place.
But more than anything, it is a place where the region’s stunning and sustainable bounty brings like-minded people together, to buy and sell, to share, to enjoy.
It’s a place where the simple task of buying essential supplies – and delectable treats – has created a bond between the growers and makers, and their customers.
From fresh local, organic produce and bottled preserves to your morning coffee, freshly baked croissant, or a handmade gift for someone special, this is what underpins the shared sense of community that flows through these markets.
For the past 20 years, the Noosa Farmer’s Market has become the region’s beating heart and its future has been secured for another 20 years with founders Shane Stanley and Ishtarlia Stanley-McVinnie having secured a new lease at the AFL grounds in Weyba Road.
While supporting farmers and giving them a retail space for their goods has become a focus, along with the importance of low food miles, Shane says the driving motivation when starting the markets was actually the community benefit.
“To have access to fresh, nourishing food, that was my intent, as corny as that sounds. But the only way to do that, to get that food to the people, was to support the farmers. At the time, we’re talking 20 years ago, there was a real disconnect between the community and the farmers who were growing the food and there seemed to be a lot of middle men.
“Over the years we have built really strong connections with rural producers in the area to the point where former rivals now support each other.
“Who was selling to where and for how much used to be a very secretive process but it’s now more collaborative and there’s a real sense of working together to sell the produce in more direct ways to the public and the customers. It’s brought fairness and transparency to the process.”
Shane and Ish visit the farms regularly, tour the sites, check the crops and speak to the farmers about their long-term visions and goals. “We stand behind the product, and the person.”
With Noosa’s reputation as a foodie destination, the quality of produce being sold at the market is a high priority. “If it didn’t taste any good, no-one would come, full stop,” Shane says.
External factors such as the global financial crisis, flooding, fires and a pandemic in recent years have all shone the spotlight on food security and raised awareness around the supply chain. Where is my food coming from, how is it getting here and who profits are all regular questions now.
“Customers want to know where their money is going and that they are getting quality, nutritious food that tastes good,” says Shane. “They also want to buy local.”
Sourcing locally means weather plays a part in what’s available week to week.
“Where we live, however, we have a wide variety – everything from subtropical right through to leafy greens,” says Shane. “We are so spoilt! We’re just right in the middle of a food bowl.
“Most produce grows all year because of our temperature and if we go a bit further south, we get more colder climate fruits and vegetables and seafood and then again, if you go west you can get all the good stuff like rhubarb.
“Artisan cheeses and breads, even all the drinks are handmade like juices and smoothies, and all made here with produce supplied by the farmers through the network we have created.”
Shane says there was a time when farmers had to ship their produce to Brisbane to sell through the Rocklea Markets. “We don’t need that system anymore. The farmers have their own contacts here now,” he says.
Food is a very time-consuming job – in all aspects of the industry. You need to be dedicated and one thing people may forget is that the farmers have a seven-day-a-week job as well. “We’ll have a farmer pack up on a Sunday and go back and muster cattle or fix the fence or chase a wild dog. They have to sell, and farm,” says Shane.
The success of the market has, in fact, helped secure the region’s food security. “Development was a real threat. Thankfully a few years back the councils protected the farmland so, for example, 75% of Noosa Shire is protected under agricultural land.
What I have seen happen in the last few years is a migration from the south and the north to this area to farm. Because you can farm here, not as intensively as you have to elsewhere, but you can use less chemicals and there’s more of a network for that to happen. So what we are seeing is more farmers and growers coming to the area looking to start their farms because they feel there is more opportunity here to sell their produce. “We’ve got the reputation of being the place to come to if you want to do either organic or biodynamic farming – and you’re being encouraged to do it. It’s not something we see as an old art, it’s something that very important for the food security of our area.”
Shane and Ish love the extended community they have created and connected through the market – which helps local farmers, customers and the region as a whole. “It’s more than just selling the food.” Says Shane. “It’s about the network. And it’s the way Australia used to be – you helped your neighbour.”