Farmers lobby to allow roadside selling
A roadside stall selling farm produce was closed by police yesterday because it breached Covid-19 regulations.
But Roland Hill, of J & J Produce, whose staff were selling the produce at Astwood Park, Warwick, said he didn’t realise he was breaking the law as farmers and fishermen are on the list of those not required to work remotely under the rules.
He said roadside vendors were allowed to operate during the last lockdown after restrictions started to ease. However, roadside vendors are not currently on the list of permitted businesses.
The only businesses permitted to operate under current stay-at-home regulations are: retail grocery stores; pharmacies; banks; gas stations; offices of a registered health professional, clinic, hospital or other health facility including a veterinary surgery.
However, wholesale food suppliers, registered commercial farmers and licensed fishermen are all exempt from mandatory remote working.
Mr Hill said it was not his intention to break the law and admitted that he was “confused” by the rules. “We were told we had to close as we don’t have permission – we don’t have an exemption letter. We are an essential service, I didn’t realise we had to get it.
“It is confusing, my understanding is I can work remotely.
“I think we should be allowed to sell on the roadside – these are perishable products, our shelf life is seven days. It’s not treated with chemicals – it is fresh – in and out the door.
“It’s scary – during the lockdown last year I hired people who weren’t working, but this year I might have to lay off staff.”
Asked if the food would go to waste, Mr Hill added: “I will give it away to hospitals and charities. But I am not in the business to give everything away every week, we have had such a bad year with the storms and Covid – I sell a lot to restaurants which have also been suffering over a year.”
Carlos Amaral, a farmer and spokesman for the Bermuda Farmers Association, said he believed the law should be revisited.
“We are essential industries, we provide food from the field and for most of us those sales help to offset our costs of running a farm.
“I have spoken to the minister who is responsible for us, Walter Roban, and we have been trying to come to a workable solution.
“We had a solution during the last lockdown – we had to shift to an online platform and then abide by shopping in alphabetical order.
“We could do farm sales and then roadside came later on with amendments to legislation.
“It is with Minister of National Security who has to agree with the changes that they are putting forward.
“We are not trying to be self serving. The public are looking for a fresh, healthy, locally grown food.”
A petition was launched by local lawyer Peter Sanderson on www.change.org yesterday titled: “Allow people to buy from farm and fisherman stalls”.
The petition, signed by close to 3,000 people by press time, said: “The Bermuda Shelter in Place regulations allow farmers and fishermen to continue to work, but their stalls are not classed as ’permitted businesses’ for people to purchase from. It is much healthier to buy fresh local produce from an open air stall, than it is to buy imported goods from a windowless shop.
“It is also a blow to local farmers and fishermen if they cannot sell their produce, at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to support local food supply chains.
“The regulations need to be amended to allow people to purchase local produce from open air vendors.”
Mr Sanderson said he was appalled that farm stalls are not permitted to stay open.
“As a small, isolated island we need to do more to protect our local food supply for anything that may come along later,” he said.
“The government should have reviewed the regulations after the first lockdown so next time we can do something more appropriate. There is a lack of sensitivity or thinking about anything.”
Last night the Government said that under the regulations registered commercial farmers and licensed fishermen are not required to work from home and therefore they can tend to their crops and catch fish.
Minister of Home Affairs Walter Roban said: “Regarding the issue where the Bermuda Police Services closed a roadside vegetable stand, that is in keeping with the regulations where we are trying to keep movement and activity to a minimum during the 7 days that the current stay-at-home order is in effect.
“Any registered commercial farmer or licensed fisherman that needs to sell their products directly before next Tuesday can apply to the Ministry of National Security for an exemption.
“If the exemption is granted, persons will be given specific permission for the time and location, along with safety measures that must be observed. Any registered commercial farmer or licensed fisherman that is granted permission to operate will be subject to the supervision Department of Environment and Natural Resources.”