British royals Prince Charles and his wife Camilla like it. So does Prime Minister John Key. And the locals. This visitor, too. The Feilding Farmers Market in a small New Zealand town attracts all kinds of folk. Opened six years ago, it’s on a reduced scale compared to city markets in larger centres, but was voted the country’s best farmers market in 2012 and 2013. In summer there are 38 stalls (with buskers and other live entertainment), and it drops down to 28 in winter. It’s open 9am-2pm each Friday. Markets manager Raewyn Loader says the proximity of the markets – located in the centre of town, easy parking and timed to coincide with the Friday stock sales, have helped generate repeat customers and its popularity. “We have really dedicated stallholders – it takes a lot of stamina to turn up each week no matter what the weather – and the community has really made the marketplace its own.”
Feilding is about 140km northwest of the capital of Wellington, and has about 7,000 residents. It has a strong rural focus, with the weekly stock sales drawing farmers and their families to town each Friday. The tidy town has been voted New Zealand’s prettiest, 14 times.
Among items on the Feilding Farmers Market menu this southern winter: artisan breads, fair trade single origin coffee, locally harvested aromatic honey, a wide array of homemade pickles and preserves, cakes and cookies, scarlet apples, New Zealand’s best lavender products, organic wines, plants. Pauline Harwood runs the lavender stall. I buy some of her Happy Feet Foot Balm and find it very nourishing for dry skin. Her pH lavender was first harvested in 2007 and has since won six national awards for its pure essential oil of “Lavandula Angustifolia”. More info: www.lavendermagic.co.nz
My next stop is at Rangitikei Honey, where I buy kilo tubs of bush and clover honey from Gavin Lambert. He owned his first hive in 1965, and now has 300. This divine, aromatic honey is a steal at $NZ8 a kilo. Gavin is 68 now, and says he’s reaching the end of his working life, and isn’t sure who will take over his honey business. He brought in a hive, buzzing with bees, for the royal visitors to view last year, and says he was surprised at the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall’s down-to-earth approach. “Just like ordinary people,” he says with a grin.
Gavin’s honey is always in demand – each Friday he sells 1/4 tonne of it. No website for orders or anything fancy – you’ll just have to rock up to Feilding’s market to buy some. Do check your country’s import restrictions on bee products. I whisked these home to Sydney no probs, but at one stage NZ honey was a prohibited import.
I can’t walk past the apples – the most vivid shade of scarlet I’ve ever seen with that unmistakable New Zealand fresh crunch to the bite. The apples are grown in neighbouring Hawke’s Bay, the eastern region of the North Island blessed with a sunny Mediterranean-style climate summer and winter, and home to many hectares of orchards and vineyards. Aania Anderson of Fethard Orchard, owned by Brian McCormack, says apples and pears are the winter crops, while the summer is an avalanche of nectarines, apricots, peaches, plums and peacharines – a cross between peaches and nectarines with a smooth skin instead of the fuzzy peach surface.
Next it’s on to Granwick Gourmet run by Roger and Lorna Dix from the coastal even smaller town of Foxton. Their bestsellers include beetroot and mint chutney, plum chutney, pear chutney, cauliflower pickle, balsamic onion jam, chilli jam which are all $7 a jar. I buy jars of crab apple and quince jelly for $5 each (my personal favs) which go well with roast lamb. Roger and Lorna also do balsamic pickled onions – $10 for 500ml and $18 for a 1 litre jar. They grow 85 per cent of the produce themselves.
If you’re visiting New Zealand, this is a truly delicious slice of local life and the produce is so mind-blowingly cheap, how could you not visit to taste, gossip with the friendly locals, and walk away with more bags than you can carry? Which is exactly what I did. Remember – if you’re taking them out of New Zealand, pack them in your suitcase, not your hand luggage or NZ Customs will take them off you as you pass through security screening. Jams, jellies etc count as liquids. A jar will be over the 100ml allowance and will be a no-no onboard aircraft.
Pictures: Top 3 courtesy of Raewyn Loader, otherwise Copyright Taste for Travel. Just love the apples. Such smart tarts!