Farmers market returns in winter mode

Otago Farmers Market manager Kate Vercoe.
Otago Farmers Market manager Kate Vercoe.
Now we’ve emerged from more rigorous levels of lockdown, the Otago Farmers Market is back in business, although in its leaner winter mode.

Charmian Smith
Charmian Smith

But what happened to many of the growers and their produce when the market had to close in mid-March, the height of the growing season?

Market manager Kate Vercoe said that as soon as they knew the country was going into Level 4 the market trust and DCC Good Food Dunedin co-ordinator Ruth Zeinert tried to work out an online order and delivery hub, but in the end it proved too difficult.

Instead they encouraged vendors to offer their own online sales and promoted them through the market website, newsletters, social media and apps.

Those who did offer produce online had a fair degree of success, and some would continue to do it, Vercoe said.

Heather Preedy, of Ettrick Gardens, says they will continue offering vegetables and fruit online for those who live out of town or for whom visiting the market is inconvenient.

Cafes and restaurants, which some vendors supply, were closed and while some supermarkets took some produce, they had their own approval and supply mechanisms, Vercoe said.

"We looked at Kiwi Harvest and whether food could be distributed to foodbanks, but to actually get the food out of the ground to give it away was a cost to the vendors."

Viv Scott, of Kakanui Produce, says they had to waste some produce but much was sold through Locavore, which delivered vegetable boxes throughout the lockdown. By the time the market reopened at Level 2, they were at the end of their season, when they usually take a winter break from the market. They would be back in late September with tomato and chilli plants, she said.

Kapowai brew their kombucha three weeks ahead so had to discard a large amount, even though they also sell to some shops. Goat Island, which sells goat milk and cheese, dried off their goats earlier than normal and will be back in spring.

Some smaller organic producers dug their crops in, turning them into green crops to nurture the soil, Vercoe said.

"They knew by the time the market reopened they’d have scant offerings anyway. People took the opportunity to look after the land. We were saddened to think there was a degree of waste, but about a third of the vendors managed to get their produce out one way or the other," she said.

Pablo Dennison, of Evansdale Cheese, sold cheese online. Normally the company builds up stocks in April and May to tide them over Fonterra’s high winter milk price in June and July, but they couldn’t make cheese during lockdown. He hopes to be able to juggle stock until the new season’s cheese is ready towards the end of August, but says there probably won’t be enough to supply all their regular commercial customers over winter.

After featuring on Country Calendar at the beginning of March, Michelle Pringle, of Agreeable Nature, said they were expanding their free-range egg production and developing a range of bacon and egg pies and chicken stock for online sales when the lockdown hit. With the market, cafes and restaurants closing they lost 80% of their business, but they sold eggs online and supermarkets, which they previously didn’t have enough eggs to supply, welcomed them, she said.

"It was very scary and it still is, but we were well supported by local people and we took excess eggs to the foodbanks, so that was pretty awesome. I was so relieved not have to waste them."

However, they also killed off birds that were coming to the end of their laying life.

"We are still in a vulnerable position and we are waiting to see what’s happening Some of our restaurants haven’t come back into full capacity, and some have closed and won’t reopen."

Vercoe said many of the market’s artisan producers took the wage subsidy and decided to work on their business rather than in it.

As a result, the trust has a pile of new applications and amendments to trade to consider, from both existing and new vendors who have had time to think about their business and decided to take the plunge.


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