Shoppers flock to new-look farmers markets
When orders for her salad mix dried up overnight as restaurants closed during Covid, fourth-generation farmer Jacki Hinchey turned to the public to save her bacon.
Launching an online farmers market, Mrs Hinchey hit on a win for consumers too, offering good prices and strengthening community ties.
Now, more than 20 suppliers and hundreds of shoppers take part, including celebrity chef Alastair McLeod, who sells take-home meals, and mushroom farmer Madi Leicester.
In a Scandinavian concept called REKO, a Swedish acronym meaning "fair consumption", vendors post what they have for sale each week on Facebook, shoppers pay online and then, in a one-hour timeslot at a community location, collect their orders from waiting sellers.
"They pull up in their cars, put the rear window down, and we throw the goods in their Esky," said Mrs Hinchey, who grew up on a sheep and cattle station in Cunnamulla.
"It's contactless yet we're still connecting beautifully and people are getting to know their farmers and where their food comes from.
"It's also inspiring home cooking - people are taking away a kilo of strawberries for $3 then looking up recipes to use them all."
From one REKO market in Dayboro, the nearest town to Mrs Hinchey's Blue Dog Farm in Mount Mee, there are others in Samford and Red Hill, with more in the pipeline.
"It's not only saved farmers, it's provided a side hustle for people who've lost their jobs," she said.
Other goods include artisan breads and chocolate, homemade pasta sauces and dips, eggs and meat, and potted herbs and flowers.
Ms Leicester, an electrician who started Samford Valley Mushrooms three years ago, said the online sales model reduced overheads and wastage.
She is no longer paying $120 market stall fees and there is no need for point-of-sale equipment or extra stock.
"My partner (Mitch Bignell) and I were doing four markets so it's worked out really well, we are expanding and about to bring on some employees," she said.
Mr McLeod said it was "a lovely, lean way to have connection to the earth".
"It's like the piece in the puzzle that was missing - for people to eat local and shop the way they know they should, there has to be a level of simplicity to it.
"What this offers is that French market in a square but in a really digestible way," said Mr McLeod, whose Harvest@Home meals include seafood chowder and osso bucco.
"The market comes to them, really."
Originally published as Shoppers flock to new-look farmers markets