When you move to the country, you are expected to completely change the way you shop for food. Coles is a four letter word. As is Aldi. You can be lynched for going to Woolworths.
Coming from Brunswick, I spent my first year in Newstead going back there for groceries, because I have always combined food shopping with eating; cheese pies at the A1 Bakery before stocking up on pickled turnips and tinned okra, cannoli at the Mediterranean Wholesalers before filling the back of the car with eight different types of pasta and six different types of cheese.
“Why don’t you go to the markets?” people would ask.
I love a market. I could spend all day sniffing hand-made soap and sampling small batch olive tapenade on tiny pieces of sourdough, but for me markets are like Gourmet Traveller; everything looks amazing but it is much more practical to go to the IGA and buy eight tins of tomatoes and some mince and make a month’s supply of Bolognese.
In Paris, there is a market on every street corner and they are open every day, so you don’t need to buy a week’s worth of groceries, which is why the Parisian woman always manages to look so chic; her dinner is stashed in her handbag.
The Castlemaine Farmers Market is a monthly affair. There is nothing chic about carrying a month’s worth of potatoes over your shoulder. And because this food is organic it doesn’t last a week. So if you want to shop local in North Northcote you have to keep track of all the farmers markets within a 50 km radius; Castlemaine is the first Sunday of the month, Maldon is the second, Talbot the third. Or is Maldon the third? Or is that the artists market?
Shopping at your local farmers market also chews up a lot of time, because you know everyone and everyone wants to have a chat. I’m pretty sure that most people don’t actually buy anything, they come for the social interaction. Which is completely understandable because shopping at the markets is also financially crippling. Last week I paid $15 for a jar of gherkins (impulse buy), $8 for a pie, $13 for a pumpkin and about $400 for some purple carrots (I couldn’t help myself – purple carrots!!) I also paid a cover charge to get in. Technically, I made a donation to the CFA but the bucket and the volunteer are strategically placed between the carpark and the coffee cart.
The obvious solution is to grow your own food. When we moved here I Googled permaculture and got excited. My husband and I planted a heap of seedlings and covered the entire backyard in horseshit. After about a month and a hefty water bill, we got a few radishes and a life time supply of zucchinis. “How good are these zucchinis?” we would say as we Googled things to make with zucchini other than zucchini slice. Then a few weeks later; “I fucking hate zucchinis.”
You can offload excess vegetables at the Newstead produce exchange, but again, this is a monthly affair and when I went everyone was trying to trade zucchinis.
Defeated, we gave up on the vegie patch. We actually gave up on the garden, and it looks so bad that we have managed to lower property prices in Newstead. Some enterprising folk down the road bought the old Newstead Butter Factory, called it Butterland and hire it out for weddings. We have christened our white trash yard I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butterland and hope to appeal to the bride on a budget. The Wicked Widows of Wyndham Street are always offering cuttings from their own gardens and I will gladly take them when they also offer to plant and care for them.
Until then, we will continue to buy local. At least the Castlemaine market is entertaining; there is always a band (usually a three piece set up in front of the ladies toilets) and last week we saw a day tripper in a brand new Audi miss his parking space by a few metres and take out a shop front and a European hatchback. No one was hurt, but the police, the paramedics and the CFA turned up because people in brand new Audis who can’t park should be made to feel stupid.
PS. The gherkins were worth every cent and they came from here.