Viv Haldane visited Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market to check out the best of the region’s produce.
Think of summer in Hawke’s Bay, and you’re sure to conjure up images of some of the most beautiful, juicy and sweet summer fruit in the world. Trees and bushes all around the area are currently groaning under the weight of peaches, apples, nectarines, cherries and berries that taste just like sunshine.
“The produce is looking beautiful this year; our plants are healthy and the fruit looks amazing,” says Bay Blueberries owner Marian Hirst. “All we need now is a lovely Hawke’s Bay summer, and for our pickers to come along and help us get the fruit. We’re a family farm, and we’re lucky that this year we have been able to get some pickers from Vanuatu to help with the picking; last year it was down to us and the locals which was really hard. So we’re going into the season with no breaks – but the fruit is amazing.”
Bay Blueberries is one of the local growers who can be found at Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market. Held each Sunday morning at the Tomoana Showgrounds in Hastings, this is where you’ll find some of the best produce the region has to offer. While it’s an essential part of a visit to Hawke’s Bay at any time of the year, summer is when you’ll see some of the area’s jewels in its crown.
Making the most of the market
The popular farmers market features an array of locally-produced food and drink. Alongside the fresh fruit and vegetables you’ll find an impressive array of cheeses, oils, baked goods, honey, dried fruits, fresh meats, seedlings, flowers, and much more besides. Each of the market’s stalls are Hawke’s Bay owned and operated, which means the vendors you’ll meet are the producers, and it’s easy to see how passionate they are about what they grow or make.
For those travelling by motorhome or caravan, it’s an ideal spot, with plenty of parking, and you can stock up on everything you need for your journey, all in one place. The day we visited, we met two couples from Tauranga who were doing just that. Sue and Jim Peterson, and Janet Dunham and Paul Burgess, travelled to Hawke’s Bay in their caravans and stayed at Kennedy Park Resort in Napier. They’d had a thorough scout around the market, met many of the stallholders, and were sitting down to devour some yummy looking cupcakes. Jim told us, “We are blown away by how nice it is at the market. We’ve brought our bikes with us, so after this, we will go on a cycle trail around the Bridge Pa Triangle and visit a few wineries. We’ve been to Hawke’s Bay a few times, and each time we come, we check out something different. We’re living the dream!”
We made a beeline for Harald’s Breadworld and chose a freshly baked, zesty lemon and rosemary flatbread. They told us their bread is baked in the bakery in Onekawa, Napier, and besides selling wholesale, the market is their sole retail outlet. “In summer, we can be sold out by 11am.”
As we browsed further, we gathered fresh strawberries from Pomona Gardens, avocados from a veggie stand, and a bag of walnut brittle from Maud & Harry’s Walnut Company.
I asked the woman at Ovation Meats, “What makes your meat so special?” and she replied, “It’s tasty, it’s free-range and farmed locally.” “I’ll try some of the lamb and rosemary sausages,” I said, and she wrapped them in paper, just like an old-school butcher would.
Meet the producers
Listening to the stories behind the produce is fascinating. At Te Mata Figs, there was such a variety of fig products on display, but what to choose? Luckily, helpful owner, Murray Douglas, came to our rescue. “This is the new figgy pudding based on the 13th century English recipe. If you think of the figgy pudding carol, that’s what the Christmas pudding is based on,” he said. “And if you’re planning a nice salad, you can mix in this delicious balsamic fig dressing. Gently crush your lettuce and pour it over. Cheese and figs are a great combination too. The fig chutney is based on the Indian tradition, it has a big, long flavour. Customers come back every week – they think it will last them a couple of months and it lasts a week, so they come back for more.”
Murray, who operates the business with his wife Helen, told me, “We’ve come to the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market for ten years and get the best feedback for our fresh figs and fig products, so those ‘raw’ customer comments are very important to us. The fig grower needs to meet people rather than just the wholesalers or, in my case, the trees. A stand at a farmers market is about talking to customers. In terms of our business, it’s been vital for our growth.”
Te Mata Figs is an organically certified and award-winning fig grower. As well as selling at the market, they can also be found at the Napier Urban Farmers Market (Saturday 9am-1pm) and their café and shop, The Figgery, in Havelock North.
My husband Glenn is a big fan of black pudding. It’s a rare delicacy that’s not always easy to find in a supermarket, so when he saw Mike Wilkinson’s sign, ‘Black Pudding,’ he couldn’t resist checking it out. While the black pudding is a drawcard, Deli Meats also sells chorizo, smoked pancetta, salami and smoked venison biersticks. Mike, a big, friendly bear of a man, tells us he’s been at the market for 20 years. Inspired by his wife, a butcher, he started out making his artisan meat products using traditional recipes. “The black pudding comes from an old European recipe – we follow old school methods with no fillers, only meat and spices in our sausages. We sell around 140 black puddings every Sunday – I make a minimum of 100kgs each week.”
Mike says the market lends itself to boutique products, and that’s the difference between the big meat producers and them. “We’re just a little butcher’s shop and only do a few specialised products. As well as selling here, we have a large mail-order business, and we also go to places such as Mystery Creek Fieldays and a few other food shows.”
Another reason Mike likes the market is the contact he gets with his customers. “It’s so pleasant to be able to interact with our customers and answer any questions they might have. You can get immediate feedback and if you don’t have a particular item; you can explain, for example, ‘it’s been a wet week, and I didn’t get any smoking done.’ The bonus for the shoppers is they end up with a different experience. Visiting the market on a Sunday becomes a routine; that’s how they purchase their food, have their coffee and get to sample the best of Hawke’s Bay’s regional produce. It’s a very European style of shopping.”
Annie Nieuwhenhuis used to work as a veterinarian, but now she and her husband Geoff, who farm at Te Aute, are award-winning cheesemakers at Nieuwenhuis Farm Creamery. Nieuwenhuis Farmstead Goat Cheese won the MilkTestNZ Champion Cheesemaker award at the 2021 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards. That’s a considerable achievement, especially since they established themselves in 2018. However, Annie’s bold idea to become a cheesemaker had been in the making much longer. She told me, “I’m quite impulsive. I said to Geoff in 2007, why don’t we buy some goats and make cheese? Years later, here we are.”
Annie says the goal was always to sell their cheese at the market. “As long as we sell enough locally to make it sustainable, we try to keep it that way. We also have orders with restaurants and shops, and people can buy online.”
Like Mike, Annie enjoys talking to her customers. “When you are an artisan producer, a large part of the joy of what we do is sharing what you do – it gives people a feel for the authenticity of our work. It’s also such a lovely atmosphere. We have wonderful local support, and we get to know our buyers; that’s what this is all about.”
Annie’s eyes twinkle above her face mask as she talks enthusiastically about the different cheeses. I like the sign on her t-shirt which says, ‘Age is of no importance unless you are a cheese’. I bought two kinds of cheese (will be back for more soon) and after tasting, can say in one word: divine.
Sweet on the healthy treats
The caravanners from Tauranga urged us to check out the Hapi stall, which they recommended not only for its organic dairy and gluten-free products but for its personality-plus stallholder, Dan McKnight. In front of Hapi, customers are queuing up, and Dan’s energetic commentary on what’s on offer is pure entertainment. As we sidled up closer, a customer remarked, “These slices are to die for,” before carefully placing a slice of chocolate-mint vegan cheesecake into her wicker basket as if it were a precious jewel.
Dan told us, “The principle of Hapi is that everybody is welcome. Whether you are vegan or a meat-eater, it doesn’t matter; there is something for you. Your food is your medicine. At work, they call me weed-eater because I’ve been vegan for years. Look how beautiful this is; it’s remarkable,” he says, pointing to the rose and pistachio cheesecake. I must agree; it looks mouth-wateringly delicious. “We also have dairy-free cheeses made with cashew nuts. The sprouted buckwheat paleo bread we make from soaked nuts and seeds are pressed into tins on Friday, and baked on Saturday for today. It’s what we call slow food because we believe good things take time.”
Without drawing breath, he added. “For the omnivores, I have a chicken liver paté made with Bostock’s free-range organic chicken livers, dates and butter. I knew there was a note to strike for you,” he says, zeroing in on Glenn, who has suddenly snapped to attention and moves in for a closer look.
I asked about the glass bottles containing the bright orange sauce. “This is fermented chilli sauce. It’s been fermented so you can really taste the chilli. It’s like a cockfight now, with young men vying to see who can make the hottest chilli sauce; that’s rubbish, man, it’s about the flavour of the chilli sauce.”
Dan said that when he’s not working at the market or in the Hapi store in Napier, he works at Napier Port as a forklift driver and an art gallery curator. What a fascinating man!
Keeping it local
Authenticity is key to the market’s success, according to Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market marketing manager, Alex Martin. “We ensure everything is either grown or made by the people who are the stallholders. So the majority of faces on the stalls are the ones that have been out in fields planting or making the cheeses or loaves of bread or relishes. The heart and soul of the stallholders go into those products, and it’s nice that they can share their stories and give people that level of information when you are purchasing. Those stories and the relationships and connections they have with the stallholders is what draws people here.”
It was heartening to see this market thriving, despite the lockdown levels (it was operating at level two when we visited). They have adapted well to the restrictions currently in place. “We are operating in the best way we can to keep our customers and our stallholders safe. We have the advantage of being outdoors on a big green site with lots of space and shade in the summer months,” says Alex.
- Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market: Tomoana Showgrounds, Kenilworth Rd, Hastings. Held every Sunday, 8.30am-12.30pm. hawkesbayfarmersmarket.co.nz
Looking for motorhomes or caravans for sale in NZ? Browse our latest listings here.