GAF Story

Prue Rothwell

ISS Institute
Farmers’ Market Sector & Local Food Systems

Prue Rothwell ISSI fellow

Prue Rothwell is passionate about local food movements and the Australian farmers' market industry. Over the last four years, she has been actively involved in the farmers' market movement in Victoria as a shopper, volunteer and administrator at Melbourne Farmers Markets (MFM).

With the support of an International Specialized Skills Institute (ISSI) GAF Fellowship, Prue travelled to the US for ten weeks in 2017 to immerse herself in the US farmers' market culture and to meet with industry leaders. Prue had various aims heading into her research trip, including:

  • understanding the systems and processes of the US Farmers’ Market sector, which has been operating for over 40 years, in comparison to the Australian sector which has only really gained traction in the past 15 years;
  • learning from leading farmers’ market organisations that are operating multiple farmers’ markets (up to 50+ markets a week!) and how the operations and logistics of this scale occur;
  • learning about the regulation and programs that are implemented at government and organisational level to ensure credibility is maintained within the farmers’ markets sector, and;
  • to identify emerging opportunities for the Australian and Victorian Farmers’ Market sector. 

Prue took the time to update us on her fellowship, which she is in the midst of writing up, and to shed some light on what she has gained from the experience. 

How did you feel when you were awarded a George Alexander Foundation fellowship?

Absolutely thrilled! It was an extremely gratifying feeling to be awarded with the George Alexander Foundation Fellowship and I am honoured to have been given this opportunity by the Foundation and ISS Institute.

To my knowledge, I am the first Australian to research and learn about the US farmers’ market sector in this type of reporting nature. So it has been the most wonderful journey for me to be given the opportunity to represent our farmers’ market sector which has until very recent years, been relatively invisible to all levels of government and the general public.

And I am so excited to be able to soon share my Report with the wider community!

What has it meant to you? What has it made possible?

The Fellowship has given me an opportunity to network and connect with the global farmers’ market community, many of whom I wish to continue discussions with, as so many of the insights, issues and successes are applicable universally!

The Fellowship travels provided me with valuable time to take a step out of our Victorian Farmers’ Market system and think critically about current operations at a State and Organisational level. There are areas of learning, ideas for improvements and little gems that I have been able to apply directly in practice through my role as Business Manager at Melbourne Farmers’ Markets.

Where did the fellowship enable you to travel? Who did it enable you to visit and learn from?

I travelled to the US for 10 weeks in June – August 2017 and connected with market managers, academics, government officers and of course, many amazing farmers and producers!

I spent six weeks in California learning from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market team, Agricultural Institute of Marin, CUESA & the Ecology Centre. I also spent a week on Happy Acre Farm, just outside of San Francisco, to gain a farmers’ perspective of involvement in the local food movement.

I then travelled East and spent 5 days in Philadelphia connecting with The Food Trust and Greensgrow.

My remaining three weeks were based in New York City learning about the extensive programs that Greenmarket, GrowNYC manage.

What skills have you developed as a result of this Fellowship/what did you learn?

The Fellowship enabled me to develop a stronger awareness of underlying influences and impacts that affect the local food industry and how to recognise these in the Victorian / Australian context.

The numerous meetings and interviews and developed my skills and confidence in communicating. Through constant information exchange and conversation, I was able to convey my knowledge about the Victorian farmers’ market industry which also affirmed my ongoing commitment and interest to contributing positively to this sector of local food!

I have also developed my critical thinking, research and writing skills through the documentation, synthesis of learnings and formation of the Fellowship Report.

How have you shared your learnings with others?

At this stage and prior to my Fellowship Report being published, I have shared my learnings primarily through dialogue with my peers, colleagues and producers. I have been able to incorporate ideas and processes into practice at Melbourne Farmers Markets and look forward to having discussions with the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association, our State accreditation body that maintains integrity and transparency within the accredited farmers’ markets sector.

I will look to share my published Fellowship Report with a wider audience including local government, aligned organisations and institutions. Ideally the Report considerations will stimulate further discussions, which I welcome!

What impact has the fellowship had for you professionally and for the wider sector you work in?

The Fellowship has given me the opportunity to identify emerging areas of opportunities for the local food movement. Acknowledging that farmers’ markets are a key component of the local food movement and should not stand alone in its activities but rather form part of a collective movement for greater impact. The importance of collaboration was a key learning outcome with regards to tools for success. Broad reaching programs that are aligned with and implemented within the farmers’ market activities included initiatives focused on health, education, food access, community and environment. There is so much scope and potential for positive change and effect within the wider sector!