Customer interaction valued

Kyle Davidson, of Red Tussock Venison. Photo by Gregor Richardson. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Kyle Davidson, of Red Tussock Venison. Photo by Gregor Richardson. Photo by Craig Baxter.
When Steve McArthur started selling produce at the Otago Farmers Market in 2005, he took a van.

Then, as his customer base grew, he added a trailer and then moved to a flat-deck truck. Now he has a chiller truck.

Mr McArthur acknowledged how important the farmers market was to the family's business, saying that without it, he would be only on a small-scale growing berries.

The market was good for small growers, of which there were ''not many left'', given that ''half the Taieri'' used to be market gardens, he said.

But Mr McArthur was passionate about his work - ''if you didn't love it, you wouldn't do it'' - and enjoyed his involvement with the market.

The berry fruit and vegetable farm business has been in the McArthur family for nearly 50 years. Based at Outram, where they have a road-side shop, they sell seasonal vegetables at the market and fresh berry fruit in season and frozen during the winter months.

It was an early start for Mr McArthur on market day. He left home at 4.30am and arrived at the Dunedin Railway Station at 5am.

Steve McArthur picks raspberries at his Outram farm during last year's berry fruit season.
Steve McArthur picks raspberries at his Outram farm during last year's berry fruit season.
Customers started arriving at 7am and it was a busy day, interspersed with a lot of banter and a few laughs.

''It's a big day . . . and you don't stop until you get home and then you don't stop sometimes in summer time,'' he said.

Mr McArthur believed the success of the market was down to sticking to its core values, with vendors selling what they produced which was its ''point of difference''.

''As soon as someone strays off the track, people may as well go to the supermarkets,'' he said.

Stu and Michelle Kelly, of Origin Meats, started selling their beef at the market about 18 months ago.

''Basically, it's nice to be able to take your produce from farm right through the whole process to the purchaser.

''You're stoked when someone comes along and says, `that was a great bit of meat', Mr Kelly said.

Mr Kelly, who previously spent about 10 years dairy farming, quipped that getting up early on market day was ''just dairy farming one day a week'' - and he still played rugby after the market.

The Kellys started with nine product lines and were now up to 32. He hoped the business continued to grow, although he did not want to get ''too stretched, too quickly''.

''If I want to sell more, I've got to get out there and sell more. You're in charge of your own destiny and that's quite cool,'' he said.

When it came to Red Tussock Venison, the market was a good fit for a product that was produced naturally in Otago, Kyle Davidson said.

Mr Davidson and his business partners supplied restaurants throughout the region with wild deer, including Riverstone Kitchen and Fleur's Place in North Otago, Rata in Queenstown and Two Chefs in Dunedin.

The market stall had been manned by Mr Davidson's partner, Rachel Duell, for just over a year. They wanted to get the product ''out there to the public'' and it was proving popular.

The venison was sourced mostly from high country stations, where they were helping to manage wild deer numbers, along with several national parks.

Mr Davidson, who loved hunting and the opportunity to work on some ''beautiful properties'', wanted the New Zealand public to have the choice of being able to eat wild venison.

Ms Duell loved being at the market, she had some very supportive customers who came every week, and it was also about raising the profile of wild venison, he said.

For chef Matt Cross, of The Tart Tin Boutique Bake House, one word simply described the market - ''awesome''.

''I'm so used to slaving for hours on end in the kitchen and never really getting any feedback.

''This way, I bake it and do what I love and get to meet everybody I'm serving it to,'' he said.

Trained at Otago Polytechnic, Mr Cross moved to Australia for a few years before returning to Dunedin in his mid-20s because the city was ''home''.

He worked at various restaurants and then started making some of his own tarts, cakes and other goodies part-time.

Eventually, he decided that he loved it so much, he would do it fulltime from a kitchen in St Clair.

He now supplied about six cafes in the city and he was getting increasing business for the likes of weddings and birthdays.

The farmers market was a weekly highlight and while it was difficult to gauge what quantities to take - ''it's a jostle to know how much to take, you could sell out by 9am''- it was well worth attending, he said.

''Every week [customers] come back with feedback. You see how much they enjoy having what I enjoy doing,'' he said.

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