Social distancing rules brought in by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are seeing farmers markets and other businesses close, but collaboration may be the key to maintaining the supply of fresh produce during this pandemic.
Tawnya Bahr is a chef, food consultant and director of Straight To The Source, which delivers behind-the-scenes regional food experiences for chefs and hospitality professionals, with a focus on connecting producers and the industry professionals who are sourcing, cooking with and serving their products. Unfortunately at the moment, Tawnya is witnessing the closure of many of the farmers markets that provide fresh, nutrient-dense produce directly from the grower to the consumer, but she says there are strategies that could enable both to survive this trying time.
Despite the fact farmers markets are considered an essential service and are therefore allowed to remain open, Tawnya says many operators are not wanting to take the risk.
“The risk is too great and they don’t want that responsibility, because some of them are community run,” she says.
“But then there are those that are staying open, and they’re going to great lengths to put all of these other systems in place.
“I hope it’s not a matter of time and the risk is too great and they all close – I think that would be a very bad outcome – they’ve got to take responsibility with additional space between the market stalls, there’s a lot more work involved to cleaning every bit of equipment, having everyone in gloves, and everything wrapped. Whatever it might be, there’s a lot more to it for a market to do, and there’s a lot more overhead in that.”
While a physical market can remain open with these precautions in place, Tawnya says there are other ways markets can adapt with the changing times, including online orders and deliveries, and this is where she says we need to see more collaboration.
“The delivery sector has absolutely exploded. I dare say everyone is treading water at the moment,” she says.
“They’re all trying to keep their businesses afloat and kind of bide their time until hopefully we get through at the other end. But I think there’s got to be a lot more collaborations, because everyone’s doing these deliveries – I’m getting emails constantly – and as a food consultant/chef myself, I’m dealing with some clients who are trying to go into that space, so from my perspective I’m looking at collaborations, because that lowers the risk.
“You’re dealing with one delivery person; it lowers emissions, it lowers exposure, and it’s streamlined and more efficient and better. But a lot of these guys are operating in their own silos so my job as a food consultant chef is to really look at it and go, ‘okay, how can we strategically do this and achieve and keep you guys alive?’
“From a bakery point of view too, you’ve got these beautiful bakeries and some of them do have cafes which perhaps have been closed down; they have to be innovative and look at deliveries and all that sort of thing. But a farmers’ market ticks a few boxes for these bakeries; it does drive the connection directly to the consumer so they’re not going through a third party, and also it’s a direct income stream back to these bakeries.”
Just before Easter, there was an uproar when a photo from the Powerhouse Markets in Brisbane was circulated on social media, showing hoards of market-goers not adhering to any kind of social distancing.
“I think it’s important for us as consumers to continue to buy fresh food from farmers and producers directly to help support their livelihood. In addition, reinforcing our connection to the land and our food supply and its value,” Tawnya says.
“In saying that, I think it is possible to manage a safe and healthy environment however as was mentioned in the article link you sent me, if the market management, stallholders and consumers cannot follow the strict guidelines to keep everyone safe then alternatives need to be implemented such as home delivery and consolidated market drops.”