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It’s early Sunday morning and there are still wisps of mist on the Murray River by the historic iron bridge that joins Koondrook (VIC) and Barham (NSW) about 800 km west of Sydney. Farmers drive up to a park by the river’s edge shaded by ancient river red gums. Lamb, beef and pork farmers, rice and avocado growers
set up their markets stalls alongside the kids from the local school who are selling pumpkins from their
school kitchen garden and a few bags of manure for fertiliser.
This is the Koondrook – Barham Farmers market. It’s not just a monthly avenue for farmers to sell their produce, it is, perhaps more importantly, a way for them to get together and talk. Discuss issues. Have fun. Laugh. Farming can be a brutal way of making a living with distance between neighbours, friends and relatives being a hurdle to social life as are the long hours and constant stress to produce more, and better, food for less. Without farmers we starve. They are perhaps the most important workforce in the nation but have some of the worst working conditions. But then there’s the small local market where real farmers sell their food to not only the townspeople (there are 1400 living in the twin towns) but also their neighbours. “People are proud to buy food from their neighbours,” says Lauren Mathers, co-founder of the market. “They can drive past and see the farm and see how the animals are raised and how they are being looked after,” she says. She introduces us to ‘Davo’. He was a full time woodcutter and party animal. After red gum forestry in the area was greatly restricted with the expansion of national parks he took to farming Dorper lambs and selling their meat at the market. Davo has since found his true niche, quitened down, and is really enjoying the social interaction with the community. He has purchased a mobile cool storage display and will travel the Riverina doing markets there.
Meanwhile, Elliot Fehring is a young bloke who doesn’t look like your average farmer. With his dreadlocks and skater sneakers he looks slightly out of place standing behind baskets of his fresh eggs. He grows these out on the family’s organic dairy farm. Chickens sheltering in old caravans and protected by dogs are placed in paddocks three to four days after the dairy cows have been there. The chickens feast on green grass and the insects that breed in the manure. The result is some of the best eggs in the country. “The farmer’s market allows me to get a little income and slowly grow the business,” he says. “It’s also bloody great to have him here at the market,” adds Mathers.