Local Produce is essential to the community in COVID-19 crisis

The Greater Whitsunday Food Network (GWFN) continue to operate the Farmers’ Market held at Bluewater Quay in Mackay every Wednesday morning providing an essential food shopping service for local farmers to sell produce grown, raised and caught in the Mackay Isaac Whitsunday region.

GWFN President Deb McLucas said the market provides an outlet for farmers to sell direct to the public and as a food organisation they have a commitment to ensuring the supply chain is kept as safe as possible and available to the community through the current crisis.

The organisation is listed on the Australian Farmers’ Market Association (AFMA) website and has taken a range of measures to ensure safety of stallholders and the public. Ms McLucas acknowledged AFMA for providing helpful information to assist public safety provisions. She also thanked stallholders and customers for abiding by the new social distancing rules when attending the market.

“Customers and stallholders have jumped on board with social distancing and hygiene measures such as washing of hands. On behalf of all our farmers we are very thankful for the community support in this uncertain time.” Ms McLucas said.

GWFN have been reviewing updates from both Federal and State Governments on a daily basis along with the AFMA Fact Sheet.

“We are hearing mis-communication within community about farmers’ markets operating, however the Government advice continues to be that food and farmers’ markets are classified as an essential service and may continue to trade mindful of all other public health recommendations,” Ms McLucas said.

It is at times like this that we stand up for our farmers and are proud that we have an accredited farmers’ market framework that is based around supporting local growers.” Ms McLucas said.

Ms McLucas said that as a group they have had to implement a number of risk management strategies to enable the market to operate throughout the COVID-19 crisis, which have added to the costs of running the market. These are costs that GWFN believe should not be borne by farmers, since they are providing a much-needed essential service to the community.

GWFN is able to manage these extra costs with the support of funding partners including Mackay Regional Council, Mackay City Centre, the Local Buying Foundation and the Australian and Queensland Governments under the Community Development Program. The support of these organisations has enabled GWFN to continue in the space over the past four years and even more so throughout this current crisis.

“We have worked with Mackay Regional Council since our establishment in 2016 and continue to receive support for the work we do in providing a space for local growers to sell direct to the public.” Ms McLucas said.

Mayor Greg Williamson, who is also chair of the Local Disaster Management Group (LDMG), has been a passionate supporter of the local food movement and the diversity of what the region produces.

He said the Farmers' Market was categorised as "essential food provision" and was able to continue operating, subject to safety measures outlined by authorities.

"It is crucial at this time during the coronavirus situation that we as a community continue to support our local food system," Mayor Williamson said.

"Mackay Regional Council supports the work that the Greater Whitsunday Food Network is doing to ensure local farmers have a safe platform to sell,'' he said.

"Our community can also be assured that local authorities are checking such market spaces to ensure they are operating safely."

The Greater Whitsunday Farmers’ Market operates in line with the Australian Farmers’ Market Association best practice guidelines. This means that to distinguish farmers’ markets from other community markets, sellers must be farmers, farm family or farm staff, farm collaborative stalls, or be specialty food makers. Resellers are not allowed at best practice farmers’ markets.

The increased demand for local produce during the Covid-19 crisis is putting pressure on farmers, but GWFN is confident the industry can respond and continue to build on what they have already achieved.

“We are urging local growers from Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday to make contact with us urgently so that we can have them approved to help meet the growing local demand from consumers through our market space.” Ms McLucas said.

The market will continue to be held at Bluewater Quay in Mackay every Wednesday from 7am to 11am. Applications to join the Local Farmers’ Market (food/produce only vendors) can be addressed to the Market Manager by email.