Market fiasco

By Colin MacGillivray

REGIONAL producers have been left reeling, some without an outlet to sell stock, after the abrupt cancellation of Lancefield and District Farmers’ Market on Friday.

The market has traditionally been on Lancefield’s High Street on the fourth Saturday of each month, but was moved to Lancefield Recreation Reserve in March to help comply with social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At a meeting on Monday last week, the reserve’s committee of management decided to revoke permission for the market to be held on its grounds, citing concerns about outside visitors potentially spreading COVID-19 in the town.

Market manager Meggs Hannes said organisers decided to revert to the original venue on High Street with strict social distancing measures in place.

“We calculated how many people we could have using that space,” she said.

“We had put on extra volunteers to maintain those numbers adequately throughout the four-hour period we were going to be open.”

Ms Hannes said Lancefield Neighbourhood House, the market’s governing body, initially ticked off the plan to return to High Street but changed its mind on Friday, giving stallholders less than 24 hours’ notice.

“They said there was too much risk to the people of Lancefield from people coming from outside areas into the market or using other shops, even though we had the full support of the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association, Lancefield police and Macedon Ranges Shire Council, and all of the stallholders had already harvested and picked and were packed and ready to go,” she said.

“They were left in the position where they had to go and find alternative outlets for that produce at very short notice.

“There were a few vocal people jumping up and down, freaking out and basically causing the perception of an issue that really does not exist. We just had to wear it.”

Lancefield Neighbourhood House co-ordinator Vivien Philpotts said her preference had been for the market to go ahead but she understood why the committee had voted to cancel it.

“It was done from a position of community safety, and I understand that,” she said.

“None of us want to bring the virus into our communities, none of us want to give it to anyone and none of us want to get it ourselves.

“The park was a really good location. I think when the market was being held at the park, it was as good an example of best-practice shopping as you could find in the current environment.

“People could only enter through one spot and had to sanitise or wash their hands, there was heaps of space for everybody to social distance and nobody was allowed to touch products unless they were purchasing them.

“No money changed hands unless it went through a bucket of soapy water first. It was an excellent way of shopping – much better than a supermarket.”

Ms Hannes said the decision had prompted some Lancefield residents to travel into lockdown regions to support producers.

“A group of meat producers all joined forces and sold from the new farm shop at McIver Farm Foods at Tooborac,” she said.

“All the shoppers went across to Tooborac and bought their meat there, which happens to be in the lockdown zone. Then on Sunday a whole crew of people went to Nagambie, also travelling through a lockdown zone, and did their shopping.

“I find it ironic that people were put in a position where, to obtain the food they normally buy, they needed to travel to these areas. These are normal shoppers, these aren’t tourists.”

Both Ms Hannes and Ms Philpotts encouraged Lancefield residents to visit the Lancefield and District Farmers’ Market Facebook page to support producers who had posted their details.

“They seem to have the blessing of the State Agriculture Minister because they’re vital for people to access food, but also give farmers an outlet for their produce,” Ms Hannes said.

“Vegetables don’t stop growing just because we have an outbreak of something, and people don’t stop eating.

“The best thing for people to be doing at this point is to be accessing fresh produce from local growers.”

Ms Hannes said market organisers would meet today to discuss future options.

People can visit Lancefield and District Farmers’ Market Facebook page by visiting www.facebook.com/LancefieldFM