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Opening the farm gate

Friday, May 22, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable disruption to Australia’s fresh food trade, but enterprising farmers and food wholesalers – many of whom were already struggling due to the impacts of drought and flood - are finding new ways to sell their produce during the necessary lockdown.

The sudden closure of restaurants, cafes and some State borders has led to instances of food waste, with orders cancelled and transport routes blocked, leaving fresh produce stranded on farms and trucks.

 “Coronavirus has introduced significant challenges for the food industry and a lot of primary producers and agricultural businesses are feeling the pain,” said Erica Hughes, founder of Farmer Meets Foodie, a website connecting consumers with farm gate produce.

The popular website reflects a growing trend by consumers to learn more about the origins of the food they consume and support the production of food grown close to home.

While the idea of throwing open the farm gate to local foodies started well before coronavirus, it’s proving a successful buffer to the impact. 

“People still need to eat and farmers still need to sell what they grow.  Our goal is to make it easy for the public to discover the food available in their area and how they can deal directly with the people who produce it.”

Through the website, over 200 businesses in Queensland and Northern NSW offer a range of produce including fruit and vegetables, beef, pork, seafood, honey, rainforest fruits and a range of value-added products.

“We live on a small farm up here in Far North Queensland and our whole family is passionate about supporting farmers and ensuring they get a fair return for their products,” said Erica.

“Dealing directly with the public is also about sharing the knowledge behind how food is grown, reducing food waste, reducing food miles and supporting businesses in their commitment to using local produce.”

Purchasing fresh food online has proved especially popular during the coronavirus shutdown, as most vendors offer a range of pick-up and delivery options, allowing consumers to maintain safe personal distances or remain in isolation.  Regardless of where you live in Australia, chances are there’s a virtual farmer’s market near you.

“Coronavirus has been tough on primary producers but it’s been a valuable learning experience as well.  For many farmers it’s a chance to build stronger connections with consumers and improve the way we do business together.”

“The public has been very supportive of farmers and we are keen to see that close relationship continue into the future,” said Erica.

Restaurant closures and reduced airline travel have presented other unexpected benefits for foodies.  For the first time ever, retail consumers have been able to jump online and purchase certain types of premium beef and seafood products that in a normal situation would only be available in restaurants and first-class travel. The situation has also forced many farmers and food wholesalers to move their businesses online or sell directly to customers through farmer’s markets.

“In order to stay afloat, the food industry is diversifying and many businesses are tapping into new revenue streams by selling directly to the public.  This is a win for all involved and hopefully something that will last long after the lockdown is over,” said Erica.