Mario and Connie Gauci of Connie's Homegrown, who sell homegrown and homemade jams and preserves at the Lancefield and District Farmers' Market.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Lancefield and District Farmers’ Market organisers are hoping for a return of customers to Saturday’s event, after experiencing a downturn in customers due to lockdowns and a reemergence of some negative sentiment within the community.

Market manager Isis Jordan said she had to restrict comments on the market’s Facebook page last month when commenters criticised the market for opening during Victoria’s fifth lockdown, despite being considered an essential service.

“I put a post up saying these are our COVID-safe rules last month in July. There were then comments on that like, ‘the Lancefield Farmers’ Market shouldn’t be going ahead, it’s a bad idea’, so I turned off the comments for it and that’s what I’m going to have to do again for August,” Ms Jordan said.

The next monthly market is on this Saturday at the central plantation of Lancefield.

It has been at that location since November 2020 after a long battle to keep the market going amid 2020 lockdowns.

Last winter, farmers’ markets were not permitted under Victoria’s stage-four lockdown until mid-August, when vehement campaigning from associations, farmers and passionate customers won a change in restrictions.

Lancefield and District Farmers’ Market in particular faced challenges when, despite being allowed to operate, when the Lancefield Park Committee withdrew permission for the event to go ahead at Lancefield Park, where it had moved to have more space for stallholders and patrons.

The market was saved when it was given the option to temporarily relocate to Romsey, but has since returned to its original home on High Street.

But Ms Jordan said new outbreaks had reignited fears that out-of-towners would bring COVID-19 into the community, which had impacted the market.

“With the recent upsurge with COVID in Melbourne, and more concern with COVID in Victoria and lockdowns, there’s kind of been a bit of this community concern,” she said.

“Last month the farmers’ market fell during the lockdown, which had the restriction of no travel beyond five kilometres [and] it was actually a pretty dismal market in July. It was also a terrible weather day, it rained, and stallholders started leaving at 11.30 when the market finishes at 1pm.

“It’s just very sad for [the stallholders]. The minority that are against the farmers’ market going ahead actually aren’t the people that attend the farmers market, so it’s sad for the people that do rely on the income the Lancefield Farmers’ Market brings.”

Ms Jordan said the market operated legally and followed every COVID-safe rule, including mandatory masks, social distancing and QR code check-ins, both for the market as a whole and at every individual stall.

Early this year after the market moved back to the central plantation, it also successfully applied for an extension on its planning permit, meaning there is now more room for stalls and customers.

“With the very generous help of the Macedon Ranges Shire Council, we applied for an extension of our planning permit so we were able to extend what was previously on the two central plantations of Lancefield but now it’s on the full three central plantations of Lancefield so it’s very spread out,” she said.

“With the one person per four-square metres it enables us to have 1800 people in that plot at one time, which far exceeds any of the numbers we’ve actually had in attendance.”

The market team hopes people will continue to support local farmers and producers.

Ms Jordan said local produce formed ‘a more resilient food system’ during the pandemic, compared to the long supply chains relied upon by large supermarkets.

“We’re trying to be super safe and still be able to have this functional vibrant essential service in Lancefield, which provides nourishing healthy food to the community,” she said.

“It’s also really important for connection. The local farmers’ market, it’s a community [and] we have to be able to find ways to function in a healthy and safe way.

“We have to trust that we’re all going to do the right thing.”

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