Pinning her luck on farming

Mary Pinzone at Byron Farmers Market. Photo Elize Strydom

Walking down the main street of Bangalow, Mary Pinzone saw a petition to start a local farmers market – the first in the Byron region. Having recently moved to the area, she decided the time was ripe to make a career change as well – trading in a desk job for working the land. So she did.

Twenty years later, Mary is still growing strong and one of the original founding members of the Byron Farmers Market.

‘I do love it,’ says Mary. ‘When you’re growing fresh produce, not everything always goes to plan. It was a huge learning curve, but I still get such joy from simply growing things and watching what comes of it – like a beautiful silverbeet leaf, or almost perfect bulbs of garlic.’ 

Mary and her husband, Peter, have a citrus orchard and mixed veggie garden on 2.5 acres in South Ballina. It’s small but very productive. They grow a range of leafy greens, seasonal herbs, chillies, cucumbers, snake beans and garlic, and much of the harvest is used to make Mary’s famous ‘Pinny’s Products’, including chilli jam, harissa, sambal, relishes and her famous bread and butter cucumbers, which she sells exclusively at Byron Farmers Market.

Mary says she still clearly remembers the very first farmers market, at Butler Street Reserve in Byron Bay, in December 2002. ‘It wasn’t very easy to get the farmers’ market started. There was some resistance, and it took us nearly a year to get it up and running.

‘Back then there were no other farmers’ markets around and we were besieged by customers. It didn’t matter what type or amount of produce you brought, the demand far outstripped the supply. The locals just loved it.’

What started as half a dozen stalls has today grown to more than 75 and become very much a part of the fabric of the Byron Bay community.

For Mary, every Thursday morning signals a chance to catch up with other farmers and her loyal customers – a ritual she still cherishes. ‘The farmers market really is a special place. I love the fact that customers appreciate that you grew it yourself – and their feedback each week is lovely. They’ll tell you if they enjoyed something. It sounds silly, but they are like friends. Even after all these years I still enjoy Thursdays. It’s my play day.’

Byron Farmers Market is held every Thursday 7am–11am at the Cavanbah Centre, and Bangalow Farmers Market is every Saturday morning 7–11am behind the Bangalow Pub.

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