Sue Kelly has been described as the ‘heart’ of the Bellingen Growers Market. As one of the original founders 21 years ago and current committee President, Sue has gently steered the ship in her own affable and inclusive way, working tirelessly behind the scenes to produce a seamless marketplace for the community.
The current Growers Market Secretary Paul Nebauer, describes Sue as being swan-like. “She glides gracefully on the surface while paddling like hell underneath, always with a warm smile and personal acknowledgement. Sue really is the stuff that functional, caring communities are made of.”
Sue actually announced her retirement from the Growers Market last year, but instead took on the role of President this year. “I realised I wasn’t quite ready to leave,” laughs Sue. And from the genuine affection bestowed upon Sue by all of those involved with the market, methinks the team weren’t quite ready for her departure either.
Having grown up in this region, Sue has been involved in the organic food industry for most of her life. When chatting with her, one realises her passion for fresh organic produce only matches her passion for this region and her beloved community. We decided it was time to give this unsung hero a voice….
Sue what are your earliest memories of being involved in the organic food industry?
My parents owned a large farm in Missabotti just outside Bowraville. It was commercial size vege crops and dairy farming, so you might say I was born into the food industry.
My parents passed down many skills, including growing food, preserving what we grew (jams, chutneys pickling and drying) so there was no waist and of course butchering your own meat, which included smoking, sausage making and curing. Our own children have learnt to butcher and process as well. I have passed those skills on through organising free workshops in Bellingen and Dorrigo over the years.
What inspired the creation of Kelly Organics?
My husband Col and I moved to Kalang in 1983. We were drawn to Kalang because my husband’s great grandparents owned a dairy farm at the head of Kalang. It has turned out to be the best decision for us as Kalang is a great community to live in.
I was always drawn to the food industry so I asked the Good Food Shop for work. That was actually the the motivation for setting up our organic farm. I worked and supplied them with produce, while learning all about health food and suppliers. Over the years I used my knowledge in fruit, vege and dry goods suppliers to assist in the set-up of Urunga Healthfood and Kombu. Over the years we have produced fresh flowers, seasonal fruit and vege and eggs.
How did the Growers Market come about?
While still working with The Good Food Shop we sent produce to organic markets in Sydney and Brisbane and after a while my husband and I felt it was crazy sending our produce away and that we should supply local. So it began. We joined the Bellingen Community Market and took our produce there to sell for 15yrs. During that time I was on the committee representing the stall holders voice.
I was approached by a local couple Linda and Norm in 1994 to assist in setting up and running a local growers market. I felt we needed to encourage locals to grow more food and to have a platform to sell their produce. Kelly Organics was supplying the Community market, co-ops, shops, restaurant and now the Growers market. Our produce was in demand and we couldn’t keep up with supply so we banded together with other growers to fill the void. We worked with many growers but Dieter and Shankari were two people who became our friends and partnered together in producing and selling.
Unfortunately this initial produce market fell over after a few years, but a couple of the stallholders and locals decided to get together to create the Bellingen Growers Market Committee, reviving the market. That was 21 years ago. I’m still a proud member of the committee and can say its been a real pleasure. All in all I’ve been supplying markets generally for 35 years and have loved the journey.
How important is the Growers Market to the very fabric of this region?
So important. The market assists local growers, producers, artisans and musicians connect with the community and in turn build their business. The market has actually helped to foster the startup and growth of many agri-businesses and other micro-enterprises. We also provide a venue for the community to come together, while building the local economy and providing locals with fresh organic produce in a beautiful setting. Over the past few years we have also been responsible for creating special markets such as the Artisan, Harvest and Harmony Day, which increases what is provided to the Bellingen Shire community socially, culturally and economically.
Since the onset of Covid, the Bellingen Growers Market has become a weekly event rather than fortnightly. Why was this decided?
We decided we would run the market weekly in order to create a safe venue for customers to buy fresh food in an outdoor venue, while supporting our stallholders who were struggling for an income in a time where sales were diminishing. Once again the committee stepped up and I’m proud to be a part of this. It is great to see locals have well supported this weekly market idea.
These days you are flat out with the farm, family, markets and shifts at the Bellingen Swiss Patisserie. Would you describe yourself as a workaholic maybe?
Ha Ha- My friends and customers say that I might be a workaholic but I would like to say I try to keep some time aside for family and friends. I have played basketball for the last 40 odd years, which is time for me. My husband says every year “you’re not playing again are you?” My response is while I can still run up and down the court and put the ball in the hole a few times I will continue to play.
Any future grand plans for the Growers Market?
There are many plans for the Growers Market in the pipeline so keep an eye on our Facebook page for the updates. And we would like to encourage more growers and producers to become stallholders, so anyone can contact us through our Web page.