MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council is on a collision course with farms selling “farm gate produce” not grown or produced there or on neighbouring properties.
While the shire says it is “committed to supporting farm gate sales” and is “working constructively with operators to help them comply with state government planning legislation”, it says it is bound by green wedge legislation specifying what can and can’t be sold.
The issue arose when some items for sale at farms – which could be presumed to be products actually grown there – were found to have come from elsewhere.
State government green wedge legislation listing products permitted to be sold at farm gates specifies primary produce grown on the property; produce grown on adjacent properties, and processed goods made substantially from these items.
The rules say the sale of primary produce must remain the “core purpose” of the farm gate. The selling of “retail” products is prohibited.
“Ancillary activities” allowed at farm gates include providing customers with samples of products being sold; showing customers where the produce is grown and “facilitating an interactive experience” – such as picking your own – and providing customers with basic amenities.
Richard Hawkes, of Hawkes Farm, at Boneo, said his farm gate of 15 years was a “hub” for different local producers, but not necessarily those nearby.
He said the outlet stocked produce from 34 producers, including apples from an orchard five kilometres away.
“We try to have a range of produce from all around the peninsula because not every producer is going to be able to run a farm gate,” he said.
The sixth-generation farmer said rules governing what can and cannot be sold at farm gates “were from the 1960s”.
“We’ve had to adapt to what our customers want,” he said. “They’re coming to our farms to see what produce is grown here and to get the feeling of what farming is. It’s not like going to the supermarket.”
Hawkes Farm also sells online and makes home deliveries.
Peninsula Fresh Organics, in Baxter, set up its farm gate in 2012 and has sells its own grown organic produce as well as organic produce from other regional Victorian farms.
The shire says it provides a “range of supports” to farm gate operators, including the development of the Mornington Peninsula Produce (MPP) food provenance brand and the Mornington Peninsula Produce website, with its interactive map of producers across the region.
“The shire has a statutory duty to enforce the planning scheme to ensure farm gates retain their uniquely ‘home-grown’ character and do not become like supermarkets, which are not permitted in the rural zoning,” the mayor Cr Sam Hearn said.
“We are aware that, like many local businesses, our farm gate operators are struggling to adapt to changing conditions under COVID-19. We are very conscious of this as we carry out our responsibilities to uphold green wedge planning laws.”
Cr Hearn said a council review of peninsula farm gate operators revealed “overwhelming compliance, however, there are a small number who are not complying”.
“We will work to ensure local operators will not face fines or court action as a result of this illegal activity, however council has a legal responsibility in this matter and must continue to seek compliance with the planning scheme.”
He said the state government was “reviewing the planning controls needed to maintain the benefits provided by green wedge”. This included how it manages land uses – including farm gates.
“The shire has been proactive in encouraging the state to use this opportunity to ensure that farm gate provisions provide the best support possible to our farmers selling Mornington Peninsula produce,” Cr Hearn said.