Shoppers head to farm gates

Shoppers head to farm gates

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PRODUCERS: Amelia and Dan Bright, Fish Creek, with children Delilah, 2, Valerie, 10 months, and Hazel, 4, run pasture pork operation Amber Creek Farm.

PRODUCERS: Amelia and Dan Bright, Fish Creek, with children Delilah, 2, Valerie, 10 months, and Hazel, 4, run pasture pork operation Amber Creek Farm.

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People are turning to farmers for fresh food amid a blow to Victorian tourism.

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Primary producers are reporting a boom in farm gate sales as city folk go online to access farmers directly.

Meanwhile, tourism operators across the state are reportedly losing thousands of dollars each day, forcing many to temporarily stand down staff amid COVID-19, three months following the crippling bushfires.

Prom Coast Food Collective co-founder Amelia Bright, Fish Creek, said she had noticed steady increase in demand for local produce direct from the farm gate.

The collective supports 18-25 South Gippsland farmers seasonally by providing a platform to on-sell produce like pork, chicken, beef, veggies, flour and bread.

"We opened an exceptional March order cycle and we grossed our normal months' takings in four days," Ms Bright said.

"We also saw a 50 per cent increase in customers with new names and most of those were people seeking an alternative to crowded supermarkets."

Since forming three years ago this month, the collective has returned $685,000 in produce sales into back farmers' pockets.

It offers contact-less food drop offs to buyers and a pop-the-boot pick-up for Gippsland locals which has proven popular during the pandemic.

"A lot of farmers we have on board have relied on farmers' markets and obviously they're not able to go ahead with isolation restrictions put in place," Ms Bright said.

"Farmers, us included, have lost revenue through predominately through our wholesale supply with markets closing so the collective has become a very important way for small producers to sell their produce in a really safe way."

Tourism losses

In Gippsland, Tinamba Hotel co-owner Damien Gannon shut the doors to the iconic watering hole last week.

"A lot of people have been doing take-away but our population [in Tinamba] is only 30-odd people so that wasn't viable for us," Mr Gannon said.

"We're more of a destination hotel and a major part of our trade is tourism heading to East Gippsland or the Gippsland Lakes area.

"We'd actually just started to pick up after the bushfires and things were getting to normal and now our turnover is zero."

The hotel has temporarily stood down its staff but Mr Gannon said he hoped to keep his full-time staff and long-term casuals on the books after the federal government announced the $130 million JobKeeper package on Monday.

"When everything does get back to normal, we hope people will continue to visit the area," Mr Gannon said.

"Even though we weren't directly impacted by the fires, we rely on a lot of the people visiting East Gippsland."

Regional businesses need support

In Victoria's north-east, modelling commissioned by the region's tourism body suggests tourism operators lost between $183-$208 million in the first quarter of 2020 due to the bushfires.

"The impact from COVID-19 is absolutely devastating particularly in our region where businesses in the north-east lost millions during the bushfires," Tourism North East chief executive Bess Nolan-Cook said.

"Some businesses have closed their doors ... due to the fact there is no visitation but other businesses are looking to innovate and improve their online capability.

"Whether it be wine, craft beer, cheese, olives, jam or gin and I would encourage any past or potential visitors to continue to engage with businesses from the north-east online where they can."

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