More than 20 tonnes of pumpkins have been sold in Central Maitland in 12 hours after a plea to help two Morpeth farmers went viral.
Farmers Matthew Dennis and Tony Milburn could not believe their eyes as thousands of pumpkin eaters across the Hunter arrived at a stall in The Levee on Thursday to scoop up the 40-tonne crop, which was destined to be fertiliser.
A Newcastle bakery took 300 pumpkins, a Maitland church took 200 and several chefs and pubs across the region grasped the chance to put pumpkin dishes on their menus.
Families across the region bought for themselves, their friends and their neighbours, with some taking home between 10 and 30 pumpkins.
Maitland residents who work in Newcastle broke their commute to stock up for themselves and their colleagues.
“It’s unbelievable. We can’t believe it, we were going to make nothing out of this crop and now we’ve sold over 2000 pumpkins,” Mr Dennis said.
“We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help, thank you so much to every one of you.”
Stall organiser Amorelle Dempster was swamped with customers from 7am. The line was several metres long for most of the day, with at least 30 people waiting at peak times.
Ms Dempster, the Slow Food Hunter Valley leader, brought volunteers to help sell the pumpkins. Meanwhile a handful of people who read The Mercury’s front page plea for help on Wednesday turned up at the Morpeth Road farm on Thursday to pick the pumpkins.
“The public have responded. People can’t bear to see food wasted and they are feeling the pain of the pumpkin farmers,” Ms Dempster said.“It’s created a massive interest in local food.”
The groundswell of support for two farmers may see the city’s businesses selling buckets of local farm produce for growers throughout the year.
Several businesses, including the city’s newsagents, have flagged the need for Maitland to rally alongside its farmers and provide more opportunities for them to receive a fair price for their produce.
Ms Dempster is hoping the overwhelming support for Mr Dennis and Mr Milburn at the pop-up sale on Thursday, where more than 20 tonnes of pumpkins were sold, will lead to a regular fresh produce market in The Levee.
She said businesses had already suggested selling a few buckets of produce for farmers and this, combined with a market in The Levee, could save the city's farmers.
“It’s needed here, we have so many small farmers that would benefit from it and if we don’t support them they’ll eventually close their doors,” Ms Dempster said.
“There used to be at least 20 farmers in Morpeth alone, and now there are only a handful.“How are we going to feed the region and the planet if we don’t support our local farmers.”
The support for Maitland’s farm produce comes after Mr Dennis and Mr Milburn revealed in the Mercury on Wednesday that they would be lucky to break even with their 40-tonne pumpkin crop at the Sydney markets, and were planning to plough it into the earth.
They are paid only 20 to 25 cents per pumpkin at the Sydney markets, while supermarkets sell them for up to $3 a kilogram.That’s the same price they were receiving 20 years ago.
Mr Dennis supports the concepts and has thanked the region for its support, saying it had been great for everyone involved. “We could definitely do something like this again, it’s better than ploughing the crop into the ground,” he said.
Mr Dempster thanked the pumpkin buyers, Ms Dempster and the Slow Food Movement, as well as Maitland City Council for the use of The Levee and Kmart for the use of its trolleys.