The sun is setting on a warm Saturday night, and farmer Florian Hofinger is bringing in fat, ripe tomatoes. Heritage tomatoes that are purple, orange, red flecked with green and some that are almost black.

Florian is one of the scores of small producers who work the fertile soil in Central Victoria, growing crops and raising sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and poultry to sell at our farmers’ markets across the region.

Florian works tirelessly through the warmer months growing some of the state’s most sought after produce on his farm, Mount Franklin Organics, named after the dormant volcano looming nearby. The former-chef-turned-farmer supplies local chefs such as Alla Wolf-Tasker from Lake House and David Willcox from The Surly Goat in Hepburn. He sells the remainder of his crop at the Daylesford Sunday Market. “What I love about it is that it is a weekly market,” says Florian as he wanders about his garden beds. Autumn is a busy time as, along with tomatoes, he is harvesting pumpkins, beetroot, and the last of the summer beans. “People can do their weekly shop and get what they need.” Florian himself takes extra produce to barter for bread from Two Folds Bakers and free-range pork chops from Brooklands Free Range Farms. “It’s good to do business with the people who grow your food,” he says with a smile.

Florien Hofinger, Mt Franklin Organics
Florien Hofinger, Mt Franklin Organics

“Farmers’ markets have allowed us to start our business,” says Daniel Ajzner. He and his wife, Sarah, milk 20 goats on their 20-hectare farm at Monageetta on the banks of Deep Creek, 16km south of Lancefield. With it, they make fresh goat’s milk cheese, including labna, chevre, and feta sold under their Dreaming Goat Dairy label. They bought the farm in 2013, and Sarah made cheese from her goat’s milk every second day for five years, perfecting her craft before selling her first cheese in March this year. They sell their cheeses at the Woodend, Riddells Creek, Malmsbury, and Macedon Farmers’ Markets. “With Farmers’ Markets, the producer gets the reward of the full payment,” says Daniel. “It really helps with cash flow running a farm,” says Sarah, “plus, being at the market is an opportunity to meet other local farmers and share knowledge.” Daniel adds, “the quality of the produce at the markets we attend is so good. It tastes so good because it’s fresh and hasn’t travelled and sat on a supermarket shelf. What people love about Dreaming Goat Dairy cheeses is the way the quality of the milk shines through every product, an indication of incredibly high level of animal husbandry. “On our farm,” says Sarah, “our goats come first.”

Sarah Ajzner, Dreaming Goat Dairy
Sarah Ajzner, Dreaming Goat Dairy

On a farm not far away, overlooking the Macedon Ranges, Toni Barton raises exceptionally good lamb. She grows Australian Whites. They are a composite breed whose meat marbles beautifully on the naturally occurring kangaroo and wallaby grasses. She processes her lambs when they are slightly larger and sells the meat under her brand, For the Love of Lamb. Despite the quality of her prime cuts, for years she could not sell the muscles from along the sheep’s belly. Then she developed a recipe for lamb bacon. It involves dry rubbing the belly with salt and then hot smoking them over red gum. The product has proved so popular it has received a gold medal at the Australian Food Awards. “I feed 1,000 Victorian families a month,” says Toni. “They buy from me because they like the quality and know their money is going directly to this farmer.” “I love the direct contact with my customers and their (sometimes frank) feedback.” One of the big success stories for Toni has been her shepherd’s pies. They are made from slow-cooked mutton from older animals, not suited for chops or roasts, and covered with a layer of creamy mashed potato enriched with fat from the lamb bacon. They are truly delicious. You can find Toni at the Castlemaine Farmers’ Market.

John Reid, RedBeard Bakery
John Reid, RedBeard Bakery

One of the stalwarts of many of the Daylesford Macedon Ranges farmers’ markets is John Reid from RedBeard Historic Bakery in Trentham. He bakes sourdough bread made from flour ground from grain grown on family farms. The bread is baked in a brick-lined oven built in 1881 and heated by burning sugar gum logs sourced from sustainable farm plantations. John and his team attend the Woodend, Lancefield, Kyneton and Castlemaine Farmers’ Markets. “The markets are brilliant to help small businesses start out,” says John. “We started with markets, and got our message out, started interest in our business, and we educated people about the benefits of eating real sourdough bread.” John has slowly been selling his bread at fewer markets over the past years. “The world needs more sourdough bakers, and that won’t happen if we are at every market,” he says. “These markets, particularly in this area, are incubators for wonderful young businesses to thrive, supported by a tight-knit community who put their money where their mouths are,” says John emphatically. “They are also wonderful places where people come together to support local growers and makers,” he says. “They really are special.”

Main photo: Toni Barton, For the Love of Lamb  

All photography by Richard Cornish

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Melbourne based food writer, author and events host.