Growers glad for return of farmers markets

Janefield Peonies and Hydroponics owner Rodger Whitson insepcts a lettuce in his hothouse in...
Janefield Peonies and Hydroponics owner Rodger Whitson insepcts a lettuce in his hothouse in Mosgiel last week. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A glut of leafy greens is inevitable as temperatures heat up and farmers markets remain closed at Level 3, a Dunedin grower says.

Janefield Paeonies and Hydroponics owner Rodger Whitson, of Mosgiel, said he preferred the colder weather at the start of last week than the warmer weather which followed.

Cold weather was better because it slowed the growth of the produce he had in his hothouse.

New Zealand went into Alert Level 4 lockdown from August 17 and from 11.59pm on Tuesday last week, regions south of Auckland moved to Level 3.

Farmers markets must remain closed until Alert Level 2.

He and his wife Cindy usually sold about 85% of the produce they grew on their 4ha property at the Otago Farmers Market in Dunedin, Mr Whitson said.

Janefield Paeonies and Hydroponics owner Rodger Whitson sells his produce at his gate during...
Janefield Paeonies and Hydroponics owner Rodger Whitson sells his produce at his gate during Alert Level 3 in Mosgiel last week. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Up to 400 customers usually bought their produce at the market each week.

‘‘We are massive there.’’

The remaining 15% of the produce was sold to eateries in Dunedin.

Produce was harvested during lockdown and given the circumstances, the most cost-effective solution was to dump it, rather than pay to chill and package it and then find a way to give it away.

Despite the extra costs, he had offered about 30kg of produce to foodbanks in Dunedin.

About a third of the produce had been accepted.

‘‘They were grateful but they can’t deal with so much of a perishable product.’’

At the conclusion of the farmers market each week, he gave any unsold produce to food rescue charity KiwiHarvest but it was in manageable quantities, he said.

In a bid to start making money from some of his produce, he started selling from his gate in Level 3.

The produce on offer for three hours from 2pm on four consecutive days ending Saturday last week was a range of various lettuces, watercress, rocket, coriander, bok choy and turnips.

About 30 people had orders to collect on the first day.

Usually, he would sell between $3000 and $4000 of his produce at the market each week at this time of year.

The 30 orders on the first day of Level 3 sales last week would return about $700.

‘‘You don’t make money at Level 3. Don’t get me wrong, we are happy for the money but it’s a lot of work for the return — but you’ve got to start somewhere to get that customer base going again.’’

He was looking forward to Level 2 and the farmers market reopening.

He believed farmers markets should be allowed to operate in Level 3 because they were outdoors so social distancing was easier for shoppers than in supermarkets.

‘‘It’s frustrating.’’

Any safety measures the Government introduced for a farmers market to run, such as compulsory QR code scanning, might require the market to employ staff, a cost he expected vendors would have to cover.

Lockdown hit at a better time last year because the season was nearing an end.

This lockdown, the season was starting as temperatures were beginning to heat up and produce began growing.

His ‘‘biggest concern’’ was entering another lockdown during the peak season of October to December, when another eight lines of produce would be harvested.

‘‘That’s when we crank into it ... That’s worst-case scenario.’’

If there was another lockdown during the peak season, he would launch an online delivery platform to sell his produce.

‘‘Hopefully, it doesn’t happen.’’

He would have strawberries available then, he hoped they would attract shoppers and help shift other produce lines.

Smaller businesses at the market had floated the idea of using an online platform so shoppers could get a box featuring a range of market produce delivered to their door.

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