It’s 11am on a sunny Saturday morning in Lancefield. This quaint little town, nestled in the rolling surrounds of the Macedon Ranges, is buzzing. Cars are vying for car-parks along the centre plantation in High Street, mothers link hands with their excited toddlers and the dulcet sounds of an acoustic duo lure the foot-traffic closer. The centre plantation is lined with leafy trees, offering shade for stallholders. Today not only marks Lancefield & District Farmers’ Market’s routine monthly appearance. Today, the market is celebrating its birthday.
Lancefield & District Farmers’ Market is the brainchild of Lancefield local Meggs Hannes, the market’s coordinator. While studying a self-development course in 2003, Hannes was required to complete a project; to initiate and put into action an idea that would benefit her community. Hannes approached Lancefield Neighbourhood House to ask for its assistance in getting her idea of a farmers’ market off the ground. Hannes and House Coordinator Vivien Philpotts have worked on the project together ever since. ‘Basically, I was working on farms around the area and had come to the realisation that if I wanted to make a difference I would need to get off the farm, into the world and offer something more,’ Hannes explains. ‘At the time, Lancefield was quite dead, with many empty shops and very little produce to select from.’
Rural towns in Victoria consistently face the challenge of raising revenue for its communities. While bigger cities possess the luxury of shopping centres and convenient 24-hour supermarkets, rural towns such as Lancefield are devising innovative ways to create valuable trade opportunities for its producers. Without these opportunities, local families and businesses suffer the all-too-common possibility of relocation and closures. ‘The aim of the market is to offer small and medium farming enterprises in the area, and beyond, the trading space needed to build their brand and customer base. [It’s] an opportunity for others to succeed.’
Here at Lancefield & District Farmers’ Market, people wander from stall to stall and experience the delectable platter of goods on offer – from organic fruit and vegetables, flowers, spreads and dips, to meats, chocolates and breads. It’s clear that Hannes’ vision, a medium for connecting local food producers with the locals, has ballooned into a fond tradition for the town. Not only is this modest market a monthly event that punctuates its links with Lancefield and surrounding rural towns, it welcomes day-trippers and weekend visitors from Melbourne. Together with genuine small-town friendliness, the market is a success story during times of financial uncertainty. ‘The market is well loved,’ Hannes admits. ‘We have always remained true to our aims of focussing on the producer and trying to offer the best space we can for them. The customers love coming because there’s excellent selection and plenty of quality items to enjoy. We also have a fantastic site under the trees on the centre plantation of High Street. Lancefield is a warm and friendly place and High Street is quite attractive to visitors from other towns too.’
The interactions here are as organic as the food on sale and the vibe is a cohesive one. There are genuine interactions between stallholders and guests alike, as well as passion for local and regional produce. One baker tempts his customer to inspect her bag of freshly baked hot cross buns: ‘Open the bag and smell the contents!’ Children play with balloons bobbing from string, dogs on leashes are smiling and the locals relax and chat away under the trees as they nibble at newly purchased items.
From the stalwarts who’ve been a part of the market since its beginnings, such as Dawson’s Honey and Organic Sunrise, to fresh faces like Goldfield Treats, the market is a thriving example of how farmers’ markets have been achieving healthy momentum in recent years. Additionally, people have become increasingly interested in where their food comes from, how it’s prepared and what culinary surprises can be found. ‘The market brings many people into town who also shop with our local traders. The locals have a place to meet their friends and the opportunity to shop for items that they can’t usually buy in town. It has put Lancefield on the map as a place to visit. People are encouraged to become producers and supply the market, offering opportunities for people to diversify their ability to generate income.
‘The market selection has grown considerably since the market’s humble beginnings with just 23 stalls. We have people wishing to come and busk with us regularly. We have just introduced a mobile demonstration kitchen offering another face to the market for people to look forward to. Each month, a chef will prepare market produce and offer suggestions for some of the more unusual things you will find at a farmers' market.’
As the market winds down to a sleepy close, there’s an echo across the plantation. A guitarist plucks a familiar tune for a vocalist as she sweetly sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to the market. She’s chorused by celebrating locals who seem eager to keep their monthly tradition alive for many more years to come.
Lancefield & District Farmers’ Market runs on the fourth Saturday of each month and the third Saturday in December. The market is located at Centre Plantation, High Street, Lancefield in Victoria and operates from 9am to 1pm. The market is accredited by the Victorian Farmers' Markets Association.