Rural Victoria looks to farming to save underpopulated communities

Market in Aix-en-Provence, France
Could farmers’ markets in Australian villages and towns become as ubiquitious as they are in France?

TV farmer and former food critic Matthew Evans wants local councils to get behind food producers and transform Australian villages and town into centres for bustling farmers markets, similar to those that picturesque French villages are famous for.

Mr Evans, who fronts SBS’s Gourmet Farmer, a program following his adventures as a Tasmanian food producer and farmer, called on councils to do more to support small local food producers and farmers’ markets while also attracting tourists and giving farmers the chance to sell their produce.

“The overseas experience is amazing,” Mr Evans said.

“In little villages in France, local authorities see food markets as an important part of the fabric of their community and as a way to attract others to their village. Therefore, they make it easy for the producers who spend all their daylight hours producing food from the ground up – they don’t have the energy to organise everything for a market too,” Mr Evans said.

“They give producers easy access to power, they might even provide the marquees. Markets are just one way councils can support local producers. They can also facilitate sessions which get producers working together. I’ve seen ‘speed marketing’ for producer groups where they get ideas for their product or group of producers.”

Mr Evans will speak to representatives from Victorian councils and local business people at the Rural Summit in Halls Gap in April.

Gourmet Farmer – Matthew Evans.

Rob Gersch, Chair of Rural Councils Victoria (RCV), which is organising the summit, said that agriculture, the food industry and innovation were regional Victoria’s great strengths and this could be used to combat rural depopulation and unemployment.

The RCV represents 38 councils, accounting for 79 per cent of the state’s land mass but they are underpopulated.

“We’re in the box seat. Our farms are second to none in the world. Regardless of whether it’s horticulture or broadacre farming (large-scale crops) it’s very strong and very productive and innovative,” Mr Gersch said.

Mr Gersch said broadacre farming, like legumes and barley, tended to use technology and large machinery but did not employ many people. However, horticulture, intensive farming and processing the raw materials provided more jobs.

He said that one of the growth areas councils and farmers should concentrate on was value adding to products, which in turn created jobs. For example, rather than just exporting grain carrying out the processes that turn it into flour.

He said consumer interest in home-grown food kept growing.

“Food and wine specialties have put parts of Victoria on the map and councils have many roles to play in this. For some producers it might involve council’s planning function, environmental health staff or the tourism and economic development team.”

He said local councils could also help by having dedicated economic development officers to foster new ideas and network with entrepreneurs and producers.

“From local council’s point of view, we see it [farming] as our future to try and retain our population and stimulate our own economies. All of the small councils are battling a little bit with low population and financial issues,” Mr Gersch said.

“The councils and communities that are going to survive are the ones that say, ok, we will have a go. We’re not going to rely on someone else, we need to come up with ideas and we’re going to work together to do it: federal and state government, local government, farmers and entrepreneurs. Most councils see economic development as one of their main programs because if we just sit back and say we’re not going to do anything, we will die.”

He said that farmer’s markets were an important part of building sustainable rural communities, although they were not the complete answer.

“Farmers’ markets have been popular for a while now but they are a growing facet of our communities and we have to promote them. It gives producers the opportunity to promote their goods and people the opportunity to buy them. It’s a very social day too and it does bring people together.”

But he said” “you have to have the product and it’s got to be at a price people are prepared to pay”.

The state already has a healthy network of fifty farmers’ markets, which the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association estimates benefits around 2000 farmers who sell their products direct to consumers. The first Victorian farmers’ market began in 1998 in the Yarra Valley.

Mr Gersch said the Rural Summit, whose theme this year is, “Standing out from the flock: is difference the key to success in rural communities?” was a way to get producers, local councils and entrepreneurs talking and coming up with ideas.

“It’s the players and stayers of local government and communities rallying together and trying to look to the future of our small communities,” he said.

The Rural Summit will be hosted by the Northern Grampians Shire Council from 15 to 17 April in Halls Gap.


Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required