The latest coronavirus outbreak should prompt the Victorian government to look more closely at the value of farmers' markets, says their peak body's field officer.
While January was a traditionally quiet time, Victorian Farmers Markets' Association field officer Peter Kenyon said there was evidence patronage had increased, due to food supply shortages in the major supermarkets.
Supermarkets imposed purchase limits on items such as mince and chicken, as delivery drivers and distribution centre workers contracted coronavirus, or were deemed to be close contacts.
"When we talk about the food system falling over, people who shop in supermarkets are seeing a lot of problems," Mr Kenyon said.
"But in the farmers market and wholesale sector, that problem is not nearly as visible and the system works very well because it has built-in flexibility.
"As in a farmers market, as in the wholesale market, if there is a problem with a supplier the managers can turn on another one pretty quickly."
Mr Kenyon said he'd like to see more measurement of the value of wholesale and farmers markets, which supplied the domestic food sector.
"I believe there should be a lot more measurement around the value of the wholesale and farmers markets.
"If you don't value it, you don't measure it, and if you don't measure it, you don't value it."
There were 20 trade networks, around the world, promoting Victorian agriculture.
"But there is very little in the way, by comparison, of ongoing analysis and data collection for the Victorian farmers' market sector."
Part of the government's leadership role was to look at all sectors of agriculture.
"We have become inured to the big duopoly and said that is the standard food system, but, underneath and ticking along, has been the farmers' market sector."
He said farmers markets' could not be regarded as artisan, or boutique, any more.
"It's like a 'pat on the head' - (comedian) Benny Hill patting the man on the head and saying' there you go, you're the little fellow'.
"With a bit more acknowledgment and support from government to measure its value we would realise how incredibly valuable it is, particularly for risk mitigation in the long term."
He said he like to see such things as turnover metrics and the number of farmers involved measured.
"It would determine the value of markets on a day-to-day and annual basis - once you have that baseline data you can use to measure its growth, diversity and strength."
The VFMA gathered some of the information, but as a small organisation couldn't do much.
"Given the government puts all that money into export of food commodities, I think it would be really good to see some of that data collection framework used to promote and support the domestic market."
Castlemaine Farmers' Market manager Chris Hain said the town's weekly market had continued to operate, during the Christmas New Year period.
"We didn't see the shortages you might see on the supermarket shelves, obviously we don't have the breadth of range they offer, in terms of mangoes and pineapples, but all of those seasonal fruits and vegetables were available."
The biggest challenge had been for some of the smaller scale meat producers, due to abattoir cutbacks due to workforce shortages.
At Castleaine, there had been a mix in customers, with locals going away on holidays being supplemented by those from out of town.
"There are lots of other people who have come to town; they are staying in Air B&B's, where they can cook for themselves, and they are buying up fruit and vegetables.
"The mix has been a bit different but the sales return for our producers has been pretty consistent.
Melbourne Farmers Markets director Miranda Sharp said January was a quiet time for markets, with many city residents going away.
"Regional areas are in the spotlight, and rightly so - this is the time for accredited markets in regional areas to shine," Ms Sharp said.
Farmers markets continued to provide what they had done throughout the year.
'When the producers are responsible for the supply they manage week-in, week-out, they are less reliant on external factors, such as third party delivery and distribution.
"They were distributing as they would, in any other week, during the year."
She said it was encouraging to hear appreciation for the markets from stallholders and shoppers and she hoped that sales would continue to grow.
"We are really only part of the whole picture," she said.
There were alternatives to the big three chains, like community supported agriculture, farm gate sales, food swaps and independent grocers, butchers, greengrocers and supermarkets.
"There is a raft of opportunity for the general public to recognise, explore and enjoy alternatives - even sometimes.
"We don't just need to do this, in crisis."
The state government has been contacted for comment.