Every Saturday a bit of magic happens on the lawn at the Margaret River Education Campus.  Out come the farmers and producers, the buskers and bakers, the prams and cloth bags, and the full gamut of Margaret River’s community, contributing smiles and laughter, and soaking up the aroma of coffee, basil and baguettes.  The Farmers’ Market is loved by tourists as well, who’ll take away locally-made nougat or crackers, but it is extra special for locals who have the chance to build up relationships over time with local producers.

There are a lot of well-known local faces behind the Margaret River Farmers’ Market, but one of the most recognisable is Kat Lombardo’s.  Since 2010 Kat has been the coordinator of the Market, and has been instrumental in its success as a well-loved hub of local produce, community catch ups, and sustainability.   “Being Croatian-Sicilian, I love food – I always look for the best quality food I can find”, says Kat, which is why she’s such a great advocate for localism and fresh food.  The benefits to consumers are obvious – just spend a short amount of time at the Market and you’ll understand – but there are also benefits for the producers who attend.  “Farmers and producers get to talk about their product, and get input and suggestions into their product, and receive praise and a social relief as well because so often farmers are working 60 to 80 hours a week, they don’t get off their properties much.  Small family businesses are also more likely to spend their money within their community, and I’m talking an approximate 150km radius – the catchment of the Market”.  Kat summarises that the Farmers’ Market is a “really beautiful way of demonstrating sustainability at its most basic level”, and has been a local leader in practically eliminating single use plastics.

While Kat is responsible for a lot of the tasks that keep the Market running smoothly – from managing stall applications, organising the market layout, to promoting the markets and managing the website –  she likens the operation to a colony of ants, where everybody has their part to play to create the wonderful enterprise it has become.  And if you were an ant then the markets would be the place to go, with locally baked doughnuts and croissants, fruit toast and spreads, honey and chocolate, and a whole rainbow of locally-grown fruit and vegetables.

Every Saturday morning at the Margaret River Education Campus

And the task became much bigger with the decision to launch an online shop.  Even though the essence of the Farmers’ Market is its ability to bring people together, “feeling, touching, talking, understanding, learning”, COVID-19 changed everything.  “The whole world was frightened,” says Kat “and also worried about not having enough food, which was funny because farmers will keep farming and you can’t stop things growing”.  The Markets had a couple of very quiet weeks with people staying home, and there was concern for the livelihoods of local producers, as well as community members’ ability to access good quality, fresh food.  A few hard weeks of gathering photographs and learning the nuts and bolts of e-commerce resulted in the online shop, part funded through the Shire’s COVID-19 Community Care Package.  The online market had good uptake, helping a lot of people through those difficult months, but with restrictions easing it has now gone on the back burner, ready to be relaunched if needed.

Kat likes a challenge, and isn’t necessarily all that fond of repetitive tasks, but the pace of change over the last ten years has kept her on her toes.  When she first started, the Markets were located at the Community Centre, there were only about 20 regular stallholders selling produce every 2nd & 4th Saturday.  That number now gets up to 60 producers, with a weekly market and huge variety of goods.  The diversity of produce continues to grow, with hemp seed products and hemp milk being the newest addition, and everything from staple vegetables to organic meats on offer.

If you still haven’t experienced the Margaret River Farmers’ Market, it is on every Saturday morning for four hours at the Margaret River Education Campus, on Bussell Hwy.  In the warmer months it runs from 7:30am, but in the cooler months when we’re all a bit slower to rise it kicks off at 8am.  The new car park makes it is easier than ever to drive in and out, and of course you can walk or ride.

For more information on the Margaret River Farmers’ Market: www.margaretriverfarmersmarket.com.au/