MANY industries have faced changes due to COVID-19, including potato growers.
With the Great Trentham Spudfest cancelled earlier this month due to coronavirus restrictions, the region's growers were left without one of their biggest opportunities of the year to sell their produce.
But they, along with other growers around Ballarat, have all found ways to continue selling their potatoes to the public.
The Walsh family have been growing potatoes in Trentham for about 150 years.
The family legacy started when three Walsh brothers hopped on a ship from Ireland, bound for Australia.
Eventually finding themselves in the region, they started to clear the land and grow potatoes in Trentham.
Today, Alison and Denis Walsh continue that legacy with their boutique potato business, Trentham Potato Co.
For them, the coronavirus situation has meant that their usual method of selling their produce - to restaurants and at farmers' markets - has been somewhat impacted.
Ms Walsh said all of their supplies to restaurants had stopped for the moment with so many businesses closed, but they hope that when restaurants open again that they will want their potatoes.
The family returned to selling their produce at Melbourne's Coburg Farmers' Market last weekend, and Ms Walsh said while the way the market was operated was different - there was no entertainment and stall holders could not provide samples - it was extremely busy.
Among the crowds, she and other farmers noticed many of the people streaming through the gates to buy their produce were new customers.
"Business was really strong and a lot of customers came through. It was really busy - we sold out two hours before the market finished," Ms Walsh said.
While farmers' markets fall into the category of being an essential service, similar to a grocer or a cafe, many were suspended by councils when stage 3 restrictions were announced.
In addition to it being an excuse for people to leave the house, Ms Walsh also attributed the increased popularity of farmers' markets to people wanting to support Australian growers.
"People are getting some really good quality produce from the farmers' markets.
"Some of these people who have probably been shopping at supermarkets for many years have finally realised the benefit of outdoor shopping and have tasted the difference because it's so fresh.
"It hasn't been stored for a long time in the supermarket cool rooms and you're buying directly from the person who's grown it, so there's that connection as well which is always really nice with food."
Apart from the disruptions to how they sell their produce, the weather has also caused problems for potato growers.
February wasn't the hot month it usually is, so the potatoes weren't ready to be harvested when they usually are. March and April then saw heavy rain, so when it was time to harvest, it meant that they were dodging the weather in order to dig up the spuds.
Restrictions and isolation measures also meant hiring labour to help with the harvest was off the cards, so harvesting the crops has been a family affair.
While their children usually enjoy lending a hand on the farm, home learning meant that they were able to be even more involved with the harvesting process this year.
"All of the family got involved, which was really nice. The kids are a little bit older now and they helped out because they are home learning.
"So harvesting was part of their home learning experience that week."
The Walsh's grow six different varieties of potato - Nicola, Russet, King Edward, Sapphire, Maris Piper and Kennebec, though they are also the first in Australia to be trialling another variety - though they are still keeping the name quiet for now.
The family is trialling the potato, to see if it will grow in Australian soil.
From the well-known variety in the UK, tissue cultures were extracted from the plant in Scotland.
This tissue culture was then sent to the Potato Research Centre in Toolangi, where the cultures grew into seedlings.
These seed potatoes were then grown out in Trentham, on the Walsh's farm.
While it is not yet ready to be harvested, the crop is strong.
As they are the only people who have the variety in Australia, the number of the potatoes - known to be a versatile spud that is great for mash, roasting and as a chip - to be sold will depend on how many vegetables the crop yields, as many will need to be reserved for seed.
Nearby, the Dunns have also worked the land for multiple generations - since 1865.
While there used to be dozens of families growing potatoes in the red volcanic soil around Trentham, today only a handful remain.
John Dunn has worked on the family farm just outside of Trentham all of his life and has seen the industry change.
"Years ago there would be a truck going up to Sydney every week during the spud season and it lasted from when they started digging in April right through until October," he said.
But now that has changed, with the rise in potato imports, as well as small growers being unable to compete with bigger companies.
Mr Dunn, who is assisted on the farm by his two sons, technically run a small business - John Dunn and Sons from the farm in North Blackwood.
Despite this, they grow an impressive 18 different varieties of potato on their farm. Two of those varieties are sold solely at Spud Fest, so they are unsure of what will be done with them this year.
The family meet many of their customers at Spud Fest, who then go on to buy at their farm gate throughout the year, while the remainder of their potatoes are transported elsewhere for sale.
Most recently they sent loads up to Newcastle and Queensland, while others are sold at markets such as the South Melbourne Market.
Like the Walshs, the Dunns have also been impacted by the closure of restaurants, meaning some of their speciality varieties like the Purple Congo and Kipfler aren't being bought.
"I look at it that it's a bit disappointing but we are a lot better off than other people," Mr Dunn said. "Why complain?"
I look at it that it's a bit disappointing but we are a lot better off than other people. Why complain?John Dunn
Meanwhile, over at Coghills Creek, Lachy Wrigley is continuing to farm potatoes and fatten up lambs.
With contracts set up, their business has not really been affected, even though one line of sale has shut down for the moment.
"Having contracts in place has given us a bit of security so we know where our market is and where they are going," he said.
"It takes the risk of the market out of it."
While the wet weather did put the brakes on the potato harvest, he said it had been great for cropping.
Ms Walsh said that while this year would be a bit different for potato growers, producers still have quality crops to sell to the public.
So head to your local farmers market or pick up a sack from the farm gate, and support your local growers.
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