By Brendan Rees
Casey Council has ordered the shutdown of the Berwick Farmers Market to help curb the spread of Covid-19 – despite the State Government saying food markets can stay open.
The market’s 40 plus stallholders – who have been providing fresh, locally grown produce to the community for 13 years – were left confused and shocked by the news.
In sweeping new measures to slow the spread of coronavirus the Federal Government ordered cafes, pubs, food courts in shopping centres, and restaurants to restrict their services to takeaway only.
However, food markets would be allowed to continue trading so long as they complied with the rule of one person per every four square metres of space.
The Berwick Farmers Market manager Geoff Rankin said he was “astounded” by the council’s decision as it was “cutting off of a food chain” in a time of crisis – which was only “making it worse”.
“They’re denying people access at a time when there’s panic buying going on,” he said. “The main thing is they still have no concern for the residents.”
“They didn’t have to do it – there’s a lot of angry people out there,” Mr Rankin said.
The market – which is accredited under the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association and runs fortnightly – will be closed “until further notice”.
“Due to the latest restrictions announced by the Federal and State Governments, which included the closure of local government community facilities the City of Casey has temporarily closed the Old Cheese Factory,” Casey Council’s director of community life, Steve Coldham said.
“Given the Berwick Farmers Market operates out of this facility, it has also been required to cease running until further notice,” Mr Coldham said.
Mr Coldham added the council was following the guidelines of safe distancing, which included “limiting the opportunities for large gatherings”.
The Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association’s executive officer Kate Archdeacon, said she hoped Casey Council would review its decision.
“I have spoken with senior advisers in the State Government today, and can confirm that food markets are still essential gatherings,” she said.
“It’s one of the very few councils that have made that decision to close the market – most of them are going ahead.
“We are able to continue to trade through accredited Victorian farmers’ markets as long as we are also following all the guidelines provided by the Chief Medical Officer.”
Extra safety and hygiene practices at markets included more hand washing facilities being available, traders putting on two staff members so one can accept cash while the other serves, and no longer allowing barbecues to run or buskers to perform to prevent unnecessary gatherings, Ms Archdeacon said.
“Everyone’s taking it really, really seriously.”