July 1, 2016
The Fresh Maker
Shane Stanley turned the sod on the revival of the local farming scene, giving producers an avenue to sell their wares direct to the public through weekly farmers markets, and in turn, providing consumers with the knowledge they need to eat better.
The sweet, juicy flesh of the first peach of the season; crimson tones of perfectly-ripe plums; wiping the juice trickling down your chin as you bite into a nectarine. This is what Shane Stanley looks forward to every year, the first crop of stone fruit season.
Shane was introduced to farm-fresh produce in the 1990s when he attended his first farmers market in Brisbane, one of only two in Australia at the time.
He was working for a hotel and ran a stall promoting the in-house restaurant, and was blown away by the farmers market concept.
“I thought, if there’s anything I want to be a part of, it’s something like this,” he says.
Within a year of relocating to the Sunshine Coast, seeking a tree-change, an opportunity came along that was ripe for the picking.
“The farmers were having a raw deal, I was very passionate about the food industry because it was being corporatised at a quick pace,” he says, “I saw a lot of the small family farmers leave the land and I lived in that area at the time. Someone came to me and said, ‘You can start a farmers market with your background in event management’, I thought I’m going to do it.”
Shane trialled the concept in Eumundi, which floundered with too many community groups being involved, so he uprooted the market to Noosa, where it boomed.
“I’ve seen a major shift in awareness and some of the farmers have adapted to that and have their own brands, like this,” he says, holding a bottle of strawberry and lime juice from local company, Suncoast Limes, “and they’ve done really well out of it.”
“So the biggest shift I’ve seen is the change in awareness. When I started, food wasn’t trendy, so when we came along, no one really knew what we were trying to do, what’s a farmers market?
“It took some time to grasp that concept, and I’ve since seen a lot of changes in awareness of where the food comes from and how it is produced, it’s now on people’s minds, it’s now a topic of discussion around the dinner table.
“To see it go from a small thing into a national movement is pretty amazing, and we’ve been a part of that change, moving from an unaware public to a very educated public.”
Riding on the success of the Noosa Farmers Market, Shane launched the Kawana Farmers Market four years ago, which he says is now starting to gain major ground.
“Our biggest problem is we can’t help every farmer,” he says, explaining that the Sunshine Coast has a healthy farming community producing some of the state’s best fruit and veg.
“We still have broad acre farming, large strawberry farms, banana farms, avocado farms, then we go right down to a market farm which could be 10 to 100 acres.”
With constant pressure to bring something new to the table, local farmers are adapting by growing new varieties – allowing consumers to buy exotic produce without turning to imports.
“There are things in the market I wouldn’t even know what they are anymore, the variety is incredible.”
Farmers are also diversifying their crops to increase yield and profit.
“A lot of people said when I started, ‘You can only grow one or two things at once’, but if you do it right, you can grow 20 things. There are people doing it. It’s how you treat the land and nature.
“Another change is everything becomes valuable on the farm, there could be 20 trees of black sapote or custard apples, that are now coming to market and making money, where they used to hit the ground and rot.”
This way of innovative thinking has also sparked a generational change.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in awareness of where the food comes from, how it was produced, it’s now on people’s minds, it’s now a topic of discussion around the dinner table.”
“We are seeing the kids coming back to farming, a lot are going to university or doing an agricultural degree and then bringing that back to the farm saying, ‘Let’s try this’.”
With so much to adapt to on a consumer level, farmers are also grappling with the effect of climate change.
“It’s not just the heat and the cold, it’s when the trees are going to flower or when they’re not. It’s almost like they’re confused. Some species will flower twice a year instead of once because it thinks it’s spring again. I’ve seen that in my own yard,” Shane says, boasting an impressive personal permaculture property laden with varieties including citrus, passionfruit, pawpaw, olives and macadamias.
“This should be our hottest year on record and we’re going to start seeing what effect it is going to have,” he says.
“But farmers will survive, they’ll just change and move to where you can produce food. Farmers are so adaptable now, they can change their crop from year to year, season to season.”
As I walk through the farmers market, you can smell the beautiful bounties of fresh produce, and the healthy smiles of the local farmers selling their wares are testament to Shane’s hard work, this is why he gets out of bed every morning. It’s true what they say, “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is”.
What hybrids are local farmers working on?
They’ve been doing a lot of work with native raspberries, to see what we can grow in Queensland. There is one now that can grow here all year round and we’re starting to see some fruit now.
What is the next big thing for food production on the Sunshine Coast?
Being in the industry this long we’ve been able to predict each trend, the next big one is sustainability and chemical-free farming. That’s all come about from good tasting food, eating better and realising there’s something to this and the awareness is coming from the ground up. We’re trying to get the chemicals out, no farmer I know wants to use chemicals, I’ve never met one.