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24 June, 2021

Al’s mission to support local

A NEW farmer’s market in Cairns Central is giving city shoppers the chance to support local farmers and buy produce direct from the Tablelands at half the price of major supermarkets.

By Tanya Murphy

Alan Gardner is a local legend in Cairns. His knowledge and contacts with local farmers built up over more than 60 years have seen him operate successful farmer’s markets in Earlville, Smithfield and Townsville before selling them on.

His new shop, Big Al’s Farmers Club, opened less than two months ago and already has 1400 members taking advantage of Tablelands produce and half-priced “out of spec” fruit and vegetables.

Al said “out of spec” referred to fruit and vegetables which were not purchased by major supermarkets due to having superficial markings or being above or below a specified uniform size.

“It’s a waste to throw away these magnificent fruit and vegetables just because they’re too big or too small, so we buy them,” said Al.

“At the moment we have about 17 different locally grown “out of spec” fruits and vegetables available to our members at half the price of major supermarkets, including apples, zucchinis, bananas and more.”

Al said his store’s produce was about 80 per cent Queensland-grown and 40 per cent grown locally in the Far North, and it was all transported directly to his shop rather than sent to a southern processing hub, as done by major supermarkets.

“Big supermarkets have to handle a high volume, so they might have a semi-trailer full, and it’s easier for them to just take it all down south. But small growers might only have 30 boxes which suits us,” he said.

“Wherever possible we source locally but there are exceptions, for example apples and pears don’t grow in Queensland and broccoli only grows here in winter.”

Al said his members could be assured the local produce was picked just days before sale.

“Major supermarkets’ pineapples are picked green, a week ahead, and sent down south.

“We get them nice and fresh every Wednesday from Rollingstone and they’re so fresh, there is no acid. You just can’t get that taste anywhere. It makes a big difference to know these things.”

Big Al’s store is located upstairs at the Myer end of Cairns Central - not to be confused with a previous grocer who recently vacated the same shop. Membership is $5.

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