VICTORIAN farmers have praised a decision to allow accredited farmers' markets to continue after the state government declared them "essential gatherings".
Thirty-seven regional and metropolitan markets will proceed, giving vegetable growers like Rocco Verduci a "sense of certainty", at least for the immediate future.
Mr Verduci, a former commercial grower with more than 40 years' experience, established his broad-scale, boutique operation two years ago after a 20-year hiatus from the industry.
He said events like the monthly Warragul Farmers Market in Gippsland made up about 80 per cent of his annual takings.
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"We plan three months in advance in our gardens and we have to work out and try predict what the market's going to be like in three months' time," Mr Verduci, Hazelwood North, said.
The Gippsland farmer grows up to 40 crops at any given time, making it infeasible to wholesale his produce at a third of the price he would normally receive selling it through the farm gate.
However, six of the seven markets Mr Verduci attends on a monthly basis have been temporarily cancelled.
"We're not geared up like the big farmers because we do most of our work by hand; we hand pick, we hand sow and if we count ourselves as labourers, labour is our biggest cost," Mr Verduci said.
"We sell to the Epping Wholesale Market but we sell it at a greatly reduced price and what we were selling to them previously was surplus produce but we feared we may have to sell them all our produce."
It means he would have to sell his produce - mainly Asian and Mediterranean veggies - for as low as a third of the cost it would sell for at a farmers' market.
"It's actually below our produce costs and that means if something costs us $1, we're selling it for less than 70 cents," he said.
"We can do that for four or five weeks but if it happened for six months we'd be broke."
Victorian Farmers' Markets Association executive officer, Kate Archdeacon, said the essential gathering status declared as part of the state of emergency would allow 15 Melbourne-based markets and 22 regional markets to go ahead as normal.
"The announcement is a testament to the state government's understanding of how important food markets are in Victoria and it's very reassuring for our members, including farmers and market managers, who are very relieved the markets will be going ahead," Ms Archdeacon said.
The accredited markets are required to follow framework which addresses two key areas.
"No re-sellers and a majority of the produce must be grown, reared or processed in Victoria," she said.
"Most of the fresh produce is either from Victoria or close to the border depending on the location of the markets."
It's unclear whether non-accredited markets will go ahead, however, ACM understands several have already been cancelled.
"Visitors should continue to attend accredited farmers' markets because they can have the confidence the produce is being sold by those who have grown or made it," Ms Archdeacon said.
Markets consider ways to address spread of virus
IN the east, Warragul Farmers Market co-founder Sallie Jones said it was essential farmers markets remained opened.
The accredited VMFA market started in late 2013 and has grown to about 60 stalls at its fortnightly market.
Ms Jones said the market would go ahead, despite a few stall holders declining to participate in the event.
"Some have indicated that they are not comfortable in coming, and we respect that, and the market is going to lots of measures to ensure it is safe," Ms Jones said.
"We normally treat our market as a community event so we encourage people to hang around and enjoy community but this month we are recommending people come and shop for essential items and support their farmers and then enjoy their market spoils at home."
Ms Jones said those considering bulk-buying food should visit a farmers' market to support the hip pocket of small businesses doing it tough in already difficult circumstances.
"If people are going to stockpile food, do it with a local farmer as we believe farmers' markets are safer places to shop than indoor supermarkets," Ms Jones said.
"From a market perspective we're putting in place a hand-washing station and one of our stallholders which sells goats' milk/soap has seen it as an opportunity to offer that service so it's very important community supports markets such as Warragul."
IN central Victoria, Bendigo Community Farmers Market manager and VFMA president, Chris Hain, said 43 stall holders and more than 1500 people attended a recent Saturday market.
"There was no need for us to cancel and we had lots of our primary producers picking their fruit and vegetables and taking animals to abattoirs and butchers and there was a possibility if it didn't go ahead ... it would go to waste," Mr Hain said.
"It felt like a normal market; we had good weather and normal attendance but we did notice a lot of people stockpiling particularly dairy and meat because it was unclear if the markets would continue or not."
In the north-east, Violet Town Market - which follows a 'make it, bake it, grow it' mantra - reported a smaller crowd at the weekend.
The monthly market features a high percentage of Victorian produce, however, is not accredited under the VFMA's guidelines.
"I was quite impressed with the support we had on the weekend though because as you can appreciate, these stall holders rely on these markets, so it was well-supported considering the crisis," market coordinator Kaylene Mexon said.
Ms Mexon said it was unclear if the market would proceed in April.
CLOSER to Melbourne, the Oakleigh Rotary Sunday Market was cancelled until further notice.
In a statement to stallholders, the non-accredited VFMA market advised people it would review the decision at the end of the month.