Farmers and food producers in Ballarat and the surrounding region are relying on community support to ensure their businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Many are stressed and anxious they will have to close if they can not sell more of their fresh produce direct to customers, to make up for the loss of farmers markets and closure of cafes and restaurants in Ballarat.
Ballarat Mushroom Farm owners Monique and Tanya Lunn said they were at the point of 'sink or swim' and most producers were in the same boat.
"There are a lot of farmers who are trying to be innovative and come up with other ways of selling their produce," Monique Lunn said.
"Because at the end of the day once this passes, if we don't have farmers, we don't have fresh produce and everything will be imported."
It is purely about survival.Monique Lunn, Ballarat Mushroom Farm
Ballarat Mushroom Farms usually sells its produce to IGAs and Foodworks, cafes, restaurants and pubs, and direct to public at farmers markets.
"In most cases if you have your finger in a few different pies, if things go pear shaped you can generally find a way through it," Ms Lunn said.
"But of course no one can foresee this sort of thing happening where it completely decimates everything."
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Supply to cafes, pubs and restaurants has been cut as all have been forced to close or operate as a takeaway and delivery service only.
Ms Lunn said hopefully those venues would be able to open again once the health crisis is over, but it was almost financially impossible to shut and re-open a mushroom farm.
"It takes 15 weeks to completely stop and start up again which comes at a massive financial cost," she said.
"For us right now it is not about making money. It is about trying to stay afloat long enough to get through the crisis and to hopefully get enough support while following the strict guidelines that are involved."
Ms Lunn said she was frustrated and could not understand City of Ballarat's decision to ban all public gatherings on council land, including farmers markets.
While continuing to sell at markets in Macedon, Bendigo, Geelong and Melbourne, she has decided to open up to customers at the farm gate for the first time, as a way to continuing selling direct to the public in Ballarat.
Ballarat Mushroom Farm will now open to the public from Wednesday to Friday and through pre-arranged pick ups on other days. Details are on the Ballarat Mushroom Farm Facebook page, including phone numbers to make pre-orders.
Ms Lunn said they would also look at setting up delivery to suburbs on particular days.
"Everything is changing so quickly so we are trying to respond as we go," she said.
"The community response has been amazing... We have just been that stressed about how we were going to move our fresh produce I just decided I would throw it out there on a few of the Ballarat Facebook pages to see if people would be interested.
"My phone went absolutely berserk and it really hasn't stopped since."
Ms Lunn said for a lot of farmers, opening a farm gate could potentially be what saves them.
"If we get to a higher stage of restrictions, that is when it will become dire," she said.
"I think a lot of us now are trying to put things in place so if it does get to that point we can still tick over enough to keep going.
"No one is in this to make a dollar. It is purely about survival. Then at the other end of it everyone wins because we still have our local farmers, we still have the produce and the community is still able to access fresh fruit and vegetables."
Ms Lunn said there were so many other farmers and prodcuers who would be struggling during this time and she feared depression and suicide rates would increase.
"So many farmers are so proud and it is a really big thing for a lot of them to come forward and say we are struggling and we do need help," she said.
"Out of all of this I am hoping it will encourage others to put their hand up and say if you want to support local we are here to. You have your likes of Spring Creek Organics, Yendon Tomatoes and Harmony Garlic, there are a number of local farmers who do need our support."
Yendon Gourmet Tomatoes owner John Elford said while he had always sold to the public through his farm gate, Wilsons, the Elaine Farmgate Shop, and Buninyong FoodWorks, a new partnership would help provide another point of access during the coronavirus pandemic.
Yendon Gourmet Tomatoes produce is now available for pick up and deliver from Websters Market and Cafe.
"I am looking for other avenues so people who would normally get my product from farmers markets can still get my product," Mr Elford said.
"I am just hoping we can all get through it and get to the other side."
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Ballarat bread maker Giorgio Basilio of Basilio Sourdough is looking at offering a subscription service to bread delivery to customers.
"A third of my business is gone because cafes and restaurants are shut and that is why I am doing the subscription," he said.
"This would also be giving people an alternative to going to the supermarket."
Mr Basilio said he had received more than 60 expressions of interest and was working on setting up an online shop.
"Hopefully I can get it started as soon as possible," he said.
Ellen Burns, owner of Ballarat healthy snack business We Bar None, said she would rely on her online sales while most of her stockists were closed and she was cut off from farmers markets in Ballarat.
"I am feeling pretty lucky to have an online store set up because I know a lot of people I do markets with don't even have a website," she said.
"I have been doing sales online so my price online matches my farmers market price to make it easy for people to access and not cost them more money than it would if they were to visit me at the market. That has caused a rise in my online sales.
"The situation is changing daily. I am hoping the farmers markets will be able to start up again in some capacity."
Ms Burns said in the meantime, it seemed many people were keen to support Ballarat businesses and were searching alternative ways to buy local products.
"I have even seen comments from people online saying they didn't know how many good producers we have around Ballarat and they were in the habit of going to the supermarket because it was convenient," she said.
"They have said from now on they would keep buying local, so I kind of get the feeling if we can survive as a business during this time, after this all settles it will actually be better.
"I am getting a picture where people are only now discovering the resources that we have locally, because the supermarket is not really a nice place to be at the moment."
Looking forward, Ms Lunn said the coronavirus pandemic would continue to be a challenging time for many, financially and mentally, and she hoped people would reach out for help and support.
"We are all in this boat. We have all got to try to find a way to deal with it," she said.
"For all those people out there who are really struggling with the isolation and are finding mentally they are struggling, they need to be able to talk to friends or family or ring Lifeline or do whatever it is they have to do to get through.
"I am positive that if people just try and take a step back and look at it as in 20 years time this will be a period of time that happened but we got through it."
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