Northland vegetable and fruit growers are being forced to throw out tens of thousands of dollars worth of food crops due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
With only supermarkets and dairies deemed essential food services, many smaller growers have nowhere to sell their produce which is rotting away in fields and glasshouses.
Whangārei Growers' Market co-founder Robert Bradley said the iconic market on Water St had to close during the nationwide lockdown, leaving between 40 and 50 growers in the lurch.
The last Saturday market was on March 22 where they were operating under level 2 restrictions. But that quickly changed, he said.
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"At this time of the year we're selling 35 pallets of produce a week – now most of that will be going to waste," Bradley said.
"Pretty much every grower who's there regularly would be dumping stuff.
"There's an awful lot of people who want us to be there, they keep phoning us wanting stuff, but you can't sell from your gate, it's against regulations under level 4."
Bradley makes his entire living from the market, growing and selling celery, leeks, spring onions and other vegetables at his farm near Broadwood in the Far North.
"There's no way of getting rid of it so a lot of it's being hoed in," he said.
"In the next week or so I'm going to hoe in about $10,000 worth of produce. It's a complete loss."
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Whangārei District Council chief executive Rob Forlong said he checked with the Northland District Health Board before the lockdown whether the Whangārei Growers' Market could continue.
"We managed to get an extra week, but the answer at level 4 was no," he said.
"It's a horrible situation and quite a few people are having to make nasty choices.
"It's not good and we don't want it to continue for any longer than it has to, but it's about supporting the people who are making these calls. Let's not get out of this until we know we're on top of Covid-19."
Under the lockdown, food delivery other than cooked prepared meals such as takeaways is allowed, along with food banks which must operate a one-in-one-out rule.
The Northern Advocate has heard of several growers and greengrocers who have started up delivery services in a bid to survive the lockdown.
These include The Vegie Man in Waipapa and Orira Orchard, both in the Far North.
Orira Orchard spokeswoman Tammy Wooster said the family - who usually sell fruit at Kerikeri and Paihia markets - wouldn't have anywhere to sell in the current environment.
"All of a sudden all these avenues that local or smaller growers are using have disappeared," she said.
"In the last week we had to throw out the last of the stone fruit peaches and plums; we just couldn't get rid of it in time. If we hadn't gone down this avenue we would have had to throw out our grapes and figs."
The Wooster family started up home deliveries on April 2, delivering to Kerikeri, Waipapa, Okaihau, Umawera and Mangamuka.
All Covid-19 health requirements are being met including no personal interaction and payment is processed online.
"The challenge in the Far North is we don't have big density, so we'll have to spend a lot of time driving around," Wooster said.
"It's either that or we have nothing to sell."
Whangārei Growers' Market co-founder Murray Burns said he's also established a delivery service.
Burns, who lives in Kauri, is doing fortnightly deliveries and is "thrilled" with the support he's been getting.
"Everyone seems to be pulling together," Burns said.
"New Zealanders are resilient and we're lucky to have regular customers from the market."
Far North Organic Growers and Producers Society chairman Rich Van Alphen said some of his growers were doing box deliveries.
Smaller growers who supply large wholesalers were having no trouble, he said.
"The demand has increased in the last five years of organic produce, it's got more mainstream. But if you're supplying to restaurants you'd probably be in trouble."
Far North mayor John Carter said he has been contacted by fruit and vegetable growers who have nowhere to sell their goods.
Carter has emailed Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis to look at relaxing the rules for these businesses, while "accepting the first issue is making sure everyone is safe".
"All of a sudden those growers are struggling to get their produce on to the shelves. Someone needs to look at some way which we can still allow goods to be presented to a market somewhere rather than go to waste.
"It's essential from a food supply perspective and also an economic perspective."
But Judy Hyland, the owner of the Old Packhouse Market in Kerikeri, said it wasn't a good idea to relax the rules.
She believes the food supply is better left to the supermarkets.
Hyland usually has six stallholders selling fruit and vegetables at the market on weekends.
"For my peace of mind, and the growers' responsibility, I thought it was easier to shut,' she said.
"It's not fair putting the responsibility on them to be responsible for people. It's putting them [growers] at risk as well."
Last week Prime Minister Jacinda Adern urged growers to contact the Ministry for Primary Industries if they had any issues with food waste due to the restrictions.