ROBERT and Cheryl Omodei have supplied Bunbury Farmers Market with their top-quality apples for the past 20 years and greatly appreciate the surety that comes with negotiating a price directly with their buyer.
"We started with the Bunbury Farmers Market when it was based in a small shed in Bunbury and have grown with the business since then," Ms Omodei said.
"We are like family."
The Omodeis have a 12-hectare orchard near Pemberton and produce seven varieties of apples.
They recently finished picking Buckeye Gala for the Bunbury Farmers Market and will move on to Fuji, Granny Smith and Pink Lady sister varieties Rosie Glow and Lady in Red.
They also supply Etherington's at Market City at Canning Vale with any surplus fruit.
Ms Omodei said they were constantly looking towards improving using more efficient and up-to-date planting methods to minimise costs of production and move with future developments in orcharding.
She said apples were picked into 350 kilogram bins, with the help of casual labour, transported to Applewood Packhouse for packing before being delivered to Bunbury Farmers Market or Perth.
"We only supply the best of our fruit to market, but if - for whatever reason - there are quality issues, the apples are juiced at Bunbury Farmers Market for their cold press lines," she said.
"It is great to know there is no wastage.
"The business model there is excellent for our orchard and we have got to know the owners really well.
"They understand our business too.
"And we get valuable promotion for our orchard at the market - with large signs inside and outside the Bunbury Farmer Market building."
HUNDREDS of fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers from across Western Australia are set to benefit from the expansion of Bunbury Farmers Market into Vasse next year and then to Perth in 2025.
Bunbury Farmers Market is without doubt the biggest farmers market in regional WA and the number one suggested place to visit in the Bunbury area on the well-known travel app Trip Advisor.
Most 'down south' visitors can't resist a pitstop to stock-up on fresh local food on the way to their destination.
Bunbury Farmers Market has a particular business model that benefits growers by directly sourcing produce from them at a negotiated price, without a middleman involved.
Priority suppliers are those that are based in the South West region, followed by those operating further afield in WA - including Kununurra and Broome - then nationally and finally overseas if something can't be found domestically or is out-of-season.
On a quiet day, the equivalent of two semi-trailer loads of fresh produce gets sold through the market facility.
And during peak periods - such as Easter and Christmas - this increases to three semi-trailer loads worth daily.
There are 30 butchers employed to bone out 1000 free-range chickens and 60 lambs each week.
Beef supplies come in primal form.
Bunbury Farmers Market owners Kevin Opferkuch and Graham Heath expect output to double when they open the second market 60 kilometres south of Bunbury at Vasse Village, near Busselton, in 2024.
This will have a similar size footprint as the 5500 square metre market site at Bunbury, but with added features of a bigger cafe with pizza oven and an outdoor play area for families.
A third market slated for Perth the following year will further boost demand for directly-sourced WA produce.
Mr Opferkuch said nothing was wasted at the Bunbury Farmers Market.
He said fruit and vegetable growers delivered produce in large bins that were filled straight from the paddock.
"First and second grades go directly into the retail fruit and vegetable section of the market, while the produce that is marked or the wrong shape will be used in our kitchens," Mr Opferkuch said.
"What is left over from the kitchens, or from juicing, is fed to pigs at a local piggery."
The Bunbury Farmers Market kitchens use domestic, not commercial, cooking practices, so value-added meals taste just like they would at home, are full of flavour and are not highly processed.
There is a bakery onsite with four bakers who use local flours.
Mr Opferkuch said about 75 per cent of all products sold through Bunbury Farmers Market were either fresh or produced instore, compared to the big supermarkets where it could be said the opposite was the case.
He said about 30pc of total sales came from fresh food, including milk and dairy, and the remainder was pre-prepared meals, sushi, meat, bakery items and handmade pies.
"Everything we do is done by hand, not machines - including making pastry for our pies and making sushi," he said.
"We are using top class local produce and duplicating the cooking methods used at home.
"Our model offers so much more to the producer and to the end customer."
Mr Opferkuch and Mr Heath have a solid understanding of the pressures facing primary producers when it came to marketing their goods, with both having a strong background as greengrocers for many decades.
"We got started with the Bunbury Farmers Market slowly because it is fairly unique in the world in terms of what we produce as value-added onsite," Mr Opferkuch said.
"We saw a gap in the market for specialising in the sale of locally-sourced goods by negotiating direct with growers.
"It was about 20 years ago that we started in a small shed in Bunbury city and now we have 5500m2 undercover.
"The emphasis has always been on grower-direct supply."
Bunbury Farmers Market employs 400 people, including 100 in the food preparation areas, and has many disabled employees.
While the emphasis is on handmade food products, latest technology - such as a new laser cutter for desert slices - is also used to assist employees and keep costs down.
In the dairy room, staff cut cheeses and sort milk from several local suppliers, including Harvey Fresh and Bannister Downs.
In the sushi room, staff are busy making this Asian delicacy.
And there is a gourmet butcher in-store to service everybody's meat needs.
All products have use-by codes that represent their freshness.
"We want people to buy our produce and ready-meals and eat them straight away while they are fresh and full of flavour," Mr Opferkuch said.
He said grower suppliers were very loyal to the Bunbury Farmers Market and they worked closely with them to provide feedback about consumer preferences and the performance of their produce in the kitchens.
"We are building long-term relationships so we can each rely on each other for long-term, consistent supply," he said.
"Our growers are also very professional and ensure they keep up with producing the latest and greatest varieties.
"Bunbury Farmers Market is always looking to work with new growers to expand our supply base and we would welcome enquiries from all agricultural sectors."
Mr Opferkuch, who comes from a farming family, said he understood the pressures and challenges growers faced and this helped with negotiations for price contracts.
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