*(Photo: Supplied, Bathurst Wholefood Co-Operative)
Farmers have welcomed an upswing in demand for local produce during the COVID-19 restrictions, with small agricultural business sales doubling since February.
Producers say that demand for home deliveries is not just generating income but also prompting conversations about food origins, as shoppers avoid supermarkets in line with social distancing measures.
Despite losing sales to local restaurants, Denise Mole of Hartley Harvest said that limited supermarket resources have doubled her usual orders for vegetable boxes.
“When we went into lockdown, the orders just exploded… I had to go and get help and normally I’m a little one-man band,” she said.
She believes ordering local produce has educated people on farming and agricultural production, as customers see the labour behind their food.
“Out of this, I’ve gotten a lot more respect as a person and as a farmer,” Ms Mole said.
Cathie Hale of Bathurst Wholefood Cooperative also believes the pandemic has prompted discussions about the source and quality of household food.
“We are a small not-for-profit cooperative, we can’t possibly compete with prices of the supermarkets, so it can’t just be convenience. It can only be concern for what [people] are eating and support for small business,” she said.
But Ms Hale is still concerned for farmers who couldn’t access online sales quickly enough during the pandemic. Unlike her business, many have no pre-existing online sales platform.
“Some of our suppliers said that without JobKeeper, they wouldn’t have been able to survive this time. They still had the production of goods… but lost a lot of sale outlets like the farmers markets.”
Many primary producers still rely on local stores to sell their produce.
“A lot of growers dropped off last year because of the drought anyway… it’s a very complex issue.”
She hopes however, that further agricultural education throughout COVID-19 will increase long-term support of farmers.
Joe Bines of Urbavore Blue Mountains says that backyard growers can also aid restoration of the “massive cracks in our food system” that COVID-19 has exposed.
Isolation has given people more time to notice where their food is coming from.
“We’ve had a lot of foot traffic during lockdown… we’ve been able to have some really great, socially distanced conversations with people about growing or buying local produce,” Mr Bines said.
The conversations on social media, where he posts regular updates, also encourage home gardening and environmentalism. Social platforms also play a key role in connecting customers with the farmers behind their food.
“Any post where I post about people, like our local growers… they’re the ones that get the most interest, that’s what we care about.”
— Story, Lucinda Garbutt-Young. Additional editing, Lucy Tassell