Markets keep farming family on the land

Rick and Stan Morrow on their Alstonville farm, where they grow produce and sell it at the Mullumbimby Farmers' Market. PHOTO: KATE O'NEILL
Rick and Stan Morrow on their Alstonville farm, where they grow produce and sell it at the Mullumbimby Farmers' Market. PHOTO: KATE O'NEILL

THE Morrow family has been farming on the Alstonville plateau for generations.

Stan Morrow, 77, remembers the days when the entire Alstonville and Wollongbar area was farmland.

"Alstonville was just a main street, with 30 or 40 houses," he says.

Out in the paddocks since he was a boy, farm life is second nature to Stan. He knows exactly when to plant the melons, pick the corn or order in the next batch of seedlings.

His approach has changed very little over the years. Farming is essentially the same, he says, but when it comes to how he sells his produce and makes a living from the farm, things couldn't be more different.

Stan, his nephew Rick and their families used to send everything they grew to the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane markets and get a decent price for it, but Stan says as time went on, things changed.

"In those times you could send a box of beans of just minimum freight, say 50c for a box of beans," he says.

"But then minimum freight become of pallet of beans that cost you $50."

As small-scale farmers, the Morrows could no longer supply the quantity required to keep their farm viable, so they decided to look elsewhere.

"I knew about the farmers' markets, but I'd never been there," says Stan.

"We went along to one and I was surprised at how many people there were."

They soon had a stall and a ready supply of customers who were more than willing to buy their produce and support the Morrow's small farm.

That was almost 20 years ago, and Stan says the family hasn't looked back.

"I love coming to the markets," says Stan.

"There are a lot of people I would never have met if I didn't do the markets."

He says not only do the markets break up the routine on the farm and provide a social outlet, they also give farmers the ability to set their own prices, instead of being constantly squeezed by middle men.

"You send to the (city) markets (and) you've got no control over what the agents sell it for or how they do it. They can more or less sell it for what they want and you just get a little bit of that," says Stan.

"You have these markets here and you can say 'well, I'm selling my spuds for $2.50 a kilo and that's it'."

Stan's nephew Rick, who helps run the stall at the Mullumbimby Farmers' Market, says the markets have not only enabled the farm to continue, but to continue in a more sustainable way.

He says the big market system forces many farmers to use large quantities of chemicals and fertilisers in order to supply large quantities of perfect-looking fruit, but at the farmers' markets, people are more interested in flavour than looks.

"People don't mind if there is a bit of a blemish," says Rick, "and you can explain to people - like if a nectarine has a speckle on it you can tell them 'it's a sugar speckle, and its actually sweeter'."

> Find Morrow Farm at the Mullumbimby Farmers' Market every Friday.

Topics:  farmers' markets kate oneill local produce northern rivers farming outdoor-living

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