Southern star shines

Mike Smith busks at the Dunedin Farmers Market. Photos: Craig Baxter
Mike Smith busks at the Dunedin Farmers Market. Photos: Craig Baxter
The Otago Farmers Market on a mild winter’s morning.
The Otago Farmers Market on a mild winter’s morning.
Some of the produce available at the  farmers market.
Some of the produce available at the farmers market.
A visitor carries their purchases in a trolley.
A visitor carries their purchases in a trolley.

Otago Farmers Market won people’s choice in a recent national competition so Rebecca Fox and photographer Craig Baxter went along to find out why people are so enthusiastic about the market, even getting up early on chilly and sometimes wet mornings during winter to buy their fresh vegetables.

It's dark. Everyone is wearing beanies and gloves, some are huddling under their gazebos having a quick breakfast; others are unpacking boxes and crates.

The woodfire pizza oven is blazing.

It's a typical winter's Saturday morning at Dunedin's Otago Farmers Market.

Just after 7am, a customer turns up; the market does not open until 8am, but they are not turned away.

His arrival signals a steady trickle of early risers turning up at the market, including a policeman keen for a bacon buttie.

While 70% of the vendors at the market are producers, the others make ready-to-eat products, many of which are made from other vendors' fresh produce.

So the ready-to-eat vendors make a quick round of the market to buy what they need before starting to cook for the crowds, while other vendors stock up for their own home kitchens.

It might be winter, with the temperature likely to be in the 0degC to 5degC range, but it does not put vendors or customers off, even in ''foul'' weather.

It is believed to be one of the few all-year markets, if not the only one, at this southern latitude. About 53 vendors struggle through the winter months. In summertime, the number rises to about 70.

Market general manager Kate Vercoe said vendors made a concerted effort to grow crops to see them through the winter, so as not to disappoint those who turned up most weekends to support them.

Not all were able to, and that left a gap during the winter months that often went unfilled so the market would not be oversubscribed in the summer.

During its 14 years, the market has also become an incubator for Otago Polytechnic bachelor of culinary arts students' latest projects and for those producing artisan products.

So winning the people's choice award for the most outstanding farmers market in the recent Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards meant a lot to all those involved, she said.

By daylight, more people - bags, baskets and even trolleys in hand - pour through the gates and the line for coffees gets longer.

Vendors start refilling their baskets and displays and signs start to go up of products already sold out.

It pays to get up early, it seems.

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