Farmers pivoting to online sales hub

Farmers markets shut down sees shift to online sales

SALES HIT: Strathbogie beef producer Sue Jones as hit hard by the closure of farmers markets, but has since been able to sell her products through an on-line store.

SALES HIT: Strathbogie beef producer Sue Jones as hit hard by the closure of farmers markets, but has since been able to sell her products through an on-line store.


Small farmers are finding new ways to sell everything from beef to beer.


Victoria's small farmers, hit by the coronavirus shutdown of restaurants and farmers markets, continue to find new ways of selling their produce.

In the north-east, primary producers have set up a drive-through market, Strathbogie Local, at Euroa, through the online Open Food Network store.

Violet Town lamb producer Serenity Hill, of OFN, said consumers ordered through the online network and picked up their meat, vegetables, dairy products fruit and beer, once a week from a truck depot in the town.

Violet Town lamb producer Serenity Hill co-founded OFN, which now has 1000 producers, registered across the country.

"There have been 313 new online shops on OFN since the start of the pandemic, a ten-fold increase in sign-ups," Ms Hill said.

"Existing shops are selling, on average, three times the normal turnover, since COVID-19."

Strathbogie Local was one of three multi-farmer shops to come online since the pandemic began, with the others being Wangaratta and Melbourne Farmers Markets.

The pandemic saw markets at Castlemaine and Bendigo move to private property, while others shut down or decreased the number of stallholders they were able to accomodate.

Read more:

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Ms Hill said she hoped to see a broader range of options for farmers to sell their products.

"Consumers realise how brittle the mainstream supply chains are," she said.

"We want to see a Strathbogie Local in every town, the software is there, they really just have to find the space."

Farmers struggle

Strathbogie Local co-founder Renata Cumming, who set up the hub with Shirley Saywell, said when farmers markets in the shire shut down, due to coronavirus social distancing requirements, many primary producers struggled.

"They were finding it really tough, most of what they sell has been through farmers markets or to restaurants," Ms Cumming said.

"Both are unavailable to them at the moment, so they have lost a lot of revenue.

'One cheese producer I was speaking with had to feed it to the pigs, as he had nowhere to sell his product to - I thought that was horrific."

She said setting up the online shop, through the OFN, did take some work, but the organisers were supported all the way by the network.

"I have mastered it reasonably well and quickly," she said.

She said a small administrative fee was taken from the sales, to cover costs such as power.

"We are not making a margin; the farmers are keeping the bulk of the money, which is brilliant."

"What we really like about this model is that the producers all have their profiles and they can control what products they sell, there, the price and quantity in the shop," she said.

The "one payment" system was so much easier for consumers.

"It's a barrier to sales if you have to make six or seven different payments."

Farmers delivered their products to the hub on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, for distribution later that day.

"We don't handle cash; no-one has to get out of their car, it makes it quite seamless," Ms Cumming said.

"It's a different way of shopping for food and vegetables."

While prices might seem to be a bit higher than at the supermarkets, Ms Cumming said it was important the system was sustainable.

"We are not screwing farmers down on price; we are paying farmers for they deserve to be paid."

Weekly sales

Sue Jones, Miramonte Farm, Strathbogie said she ran a breeding herd of 100-120 Murray Greys.

"We were selling through Euroa, Violet Town and Bendigo," Ms Jones said.

"But with councils not wanting to take any risks, and with the market in Euroa being run by volunteers who were at a higher risk of contacting coronavirus, a number of them closed down," Ms Jones said.

"There's been a lot of regional producers affected by the closure of those markets."

She estimated she had lost 30 per cent of her turnover when the markets shut down but had found a new outlet, through Strathbogie Local.

Ms Jones said she would like to see Strathbogie Local continue to co-exist with regular farmers markets.

"I think it's resulted in increased awareness and that will help increase sales," Ms Jones said."

"The most significant benefit I see, coming out of Strathbogie Local, is that the community has the opportunity to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and other produce once a week, rather than to rely on the farmers market, once a month.

"I believe people should have a choice, and it's great they can buy locally grown food, more regularly."

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