Pragmatic Idealism

Kim Towner – the ‘pragmatic idealist’

Nick Rose

This article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate, 30.4.11

This is the first of a two-part series on Kim Towner, owner and manager of Tangellos and Happy Frog in the Coffs Harbour CBD, and is also the coordinator of the Harbourside Sunday market. The story of Happy Frog and Kim’s thoughts on the future will be in the next column.

Kim Towner, proprietor of the Happy Frog, Coffs Harbour, NSW
Kim Towner, proprietor of the Happy Frog, Coffs Harbour, NSW

Kim Towner, in her own words, has ‘been to corporate scum and dirty hippy, and lots of things in between’. She’s a great asset to the city, and is exactly the sort of enterprising individual we need if we’re going to meet the challenge of building a sustainable and resilient food system.

Kim has always been a strong believer in supporting local farmers and growers: ‘I’ve always enjoyed shopping that way, going to the markets, knowing the peoples’ names whom I’m buying from’, she says. With Tangellos, she was able to put those values into practice, and combine it with a business savvy that has seen the juice and coffee bar more than double its turnover in only a few years.

As she got to know the stallholders at the central growers’ market, she heard that were unhappy about the then Sunday market, because they felt they couldn’t compete ‘against all the seconds coming out of Brisbane’. Kim, being the energetic person she is, decided to do something about it – she started her own market at the Harbourside.

‘I wanted to make it more than just a growers’ market’, she said. So ‘it has growers’ stalls, live music, a wine producer, an olive stall – and most produce there is grown or made on the mid-north Coast, or with connections to here’, with strict rules about no re-selling and no imports.

And once again, she did it well, with perhaps a dash of luck thrown in – fortune favours the brave: ‘There’s been very few days when it hasn’t felt really good. A Koori elder said to me that it was an old trading ground, “You dream them markets did ya?” The tribes from the north and the south and the west used to meet there. And the currents meet there too, which is why it’s so good for fishing’, Kim adds.

Reflecting on her experience with the market, Kim says that ‘there’s two levels of growers that I’ve found. You’ve got your bigger high-end growers, who just want to ship everything off to the [Brisbane or Sydney] market – they don’t want to come to the market. And other level of grower is very small – and they have to hold down a full-time job, as well as grow, and they can’t come to the market either.’

‘So the ones who come to the markets are the in-betweeners – they’ve got a small farm, they make their living out of it, but they’re not huge – Chris who does my fruit & veg, he’s like that, he’s grows tomatoes and herbs and he’s got a bit of a job. They’re the sort of people who can do markets. And often sell their produce locally.’

‘We’ve tried to accommodate these different levels, and the best we’ve come up with is this lady, who goes around and gets what she can from the different growers, and even then she struggles – with a local mushroom grower here will only deal with the wholesaler. So we can get local mushrooms, but only through the wholesaler. And there’s something to be said for that.’

Always looking to improve, Kim’s next goal for the market is to add workshops to the experience – ‘arts and crafts, yoga and so on – I think it’s an opportunity to create something really different, a combination of a market and an event, and tie in to local activities like the buskers or whatever’s going on.’ Watch this space!