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Future Shapers Food and drink Miranda Sharp
Photograph: Mark Chew

Future Shapers: Miranda Sharp, who wants you to know where your food comes from

The founder and director of Melbourne Farmers Markets wants you to get to know your local farmers

Rebecca Russo
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Rebecca Russo
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Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in our Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) Pat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In food, one such person is Miranda Sharp, founder and director of Melbourne Farmers Markets. 

You likely think of farmers markets as a bit of a conduit – something that helps connect food producers to consumers. In recent times, however, they’ve also become lobbyists. 

During Melbourne’s first lockdown of 2020, farmers markets around Victoria shut up shop – either by choice or by circumstance as initially, farmers markets weren’t seen as an essential service. But Miranda Sharp and her team at Melbourne Farmers Markets were determined to prove that farmers markets were a safe environment for customers to source their fresh food. Considering these markets happen outdoors, it simply wasn’t any higher risk than any other food provider. 

At the same time, Melbourne Farmers Markets also wanted Victorian farmers and small-scale food producers to have an outlet to sell their produce and products when so many were decimated by the impact of hospitality closures. Eventually, after some “pretty robust arguing” they got the approval to run markets again. “It wasn’t easy, but we were heard,” says Sharp. 

Melbourne Farmers Markets is a social enterprise, meaning the organisation is a 100 per cent not-for-profit and doesn't receive any external funding for operations. “Our reason for being is to reconnect Victorian growers and farmers with urban communities," says Sharp. "There’s that oft-throwaway line, ‘we all want to know where our food comes from’. And without making a huge effort, you can have the certainty that that's what you're doing here with the person you’re buying from.” 

Naturally, Melbourne Farmers Market had to also think outside the box during lockdowns. For the many who couldn’t make it to physical markets, or those who didn’t want to be around crowds, there needed to be another avenue for shoppers to support the farmers. The team decided to launch the online Melbourne Farmers Marketplace with a click-and-collect system. 

Then, alongside other social enterprises like STREAT, Collingwood Children’s Farm and CERES, the Melbourne Farmers Market were founding partners in the emergency food relief program Moving Feast. Approximately 15,000 kilograms of fresh Victorian produce was put into this project thanks to the efforts of Melbourne Farmers Market and its farmer producers. 

That’s what it’s all about for Sharp: real food getting shared by the people who produce it. But there’s still more to be done to get customers to recognise how important that connection is. “I still don’t think that the farming community has the platform or the recognition by the household consumer. As otherwise, we’d have a different food system – and that’s what we’re after,” says Sharp.

As for how Melburnians can remedy that disconnect, Sharp aligns it with two projects that are in operation currently in Melbourne. The first is the Victorian government’s 20-minute neighbourhoods, a concept that’s focussed on ‘living locally’ and giving people the ability to meet the majority of their daily needs within a 20-minute return walk (or bike or public transport trip) from their home. The second is Regen Melbourne, a robust network of organisations and individuals who are exploring a future for our city – currently, that includes workshops, interviews and data analysis. 

“Both of those projects are based on the accessibility, both in proximity and in practice, for communities to be able to thrive in their own neighbourhood with what is at arm’s reach. And also to be actively involved in things. Which means we need community spaces, community gardens, places where people can learn and contribute and be involved without too much structure and cost.”

“We’re just begging people to remember what felt so good when times were really tough, like being in your neighbourhood and voting with your dollar, isn’t just for when we’re in a crisis. It still has the same ripple effect of good and it still feels as good to buy your food as directly from the source as you possibly can.” 

Read about more of our Future Shapers

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