FRESH APPROACH: Spring Creek Organics operator Dave Tatman turned to farmers’ markets from wholesale six years ago. He sells more in Bendigo and Melbourne than Ballarat. Picture: Dylan BurnsFARMING producers about Ballarat are preferring to travel rather than sell direct to the public via farmers’ markets in their own backyard.

Amid a national and community push to eat healthier, fresh foods, producers and market operators are questioning whether Ballarat is culturally ready to embrace farmers’markets as a key source to stock up on locally made food and locally grownfruit and vegetables.

As more producers look out of town, Ballarat markets are struggling to attract stallholders and, in turn, lure more market-goers.

Spring Creek Organics operator Dave Tatman, based in Navigators,says there are farmers’ market“die-hards” in Ballarat, but the real markets were in Melbourne and about the Bendigo region, including Woodend, Kyneton and Castlemaine.

Mr Tatman said a lot of producers found it worth the travel for better sales.

“There is a real difference in culture. People in Melbourne seem to really embrace what farmers’ markets are about,” Mr Tatman said. “There seems to be a bit more of buzz about Bendigo. In Bendigo, they do ask a lot where the produce has come from and uses for produce. That community market started about the same as Ballarat and has doubled in size to Ballarat.”

The giant Marilyn Monroe statue, just up the road from the Bendigo Community Market, and the Marilyn exhibition is drawing Melbourne and international tourist who tend to make weekend trips. Mr Tatman said this helped attract people to the market,but he said Bendigo always tended to have activity that offered a flow-on effect to the market.

Standalone not-for-profit Jiggety Jig Farmers’ Market will celebrate its first birthday next month with a giant sausage sizzle with locally made sausages and chefsin daggy barbecue aprons.

Regardles of special themes,Jiggety Jig organiser Suzi Fitzpatrick said the indoor food market was struggling to get Ballarat people buying.

“A lot of people are not really spending money,” Ms Fitzpatrick said. “They will go for a look, make it an outing on a Saturday morning, maybe have a coffee, but they’re not buying much food. We need to try and change that.”

When stallholders leave, or channel their resources to other cities, Ms Fitzpatrick said crowds dwindle due to a lack of variety. She said it was a catch-22.

Other competitors are also taking their bite of the produce market: cheap fruit and vegetable stores, community gardens,neighbourhood exchanges andsupermarket chains.

Ms Fitzpatrick said there was room forfarmers to sell direct to the public –Ballarat just needed a cultural shift to support farmers and understand how farmers could help them with fresh advice.

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