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Markets in a COVID world...

Douglas Parke Saturday, 2 May 2020

In between all the activities to get the online shop started up, we've also been involved in the setting up of a Farmer's Market in Mirboo North.

We've had a market in Mirboo North for a long time; it's a mixture of fresh food, resold food (yes) and bric a brac. It's been popular with the townspeople, but it has had its share of ups and downs and local town politics.

When the COVID-19 Health Emergency was declared, Farmer's Markets were deemed an essential service and could go ahead, just as people were encouraged to go to work if they had no work-at-home option. For some market stall holders, Farmers Markets are their workplace. They have no retail outlet and internet sales will not cut it when you have perishable goods that need to be tasted and seen, in order to purchase.

With that in mind, the Mirboo North Market had to be reborn temporarily as a Farmers Market, as the complete range of stalls normally present would not be acceptable under the emergency regulations. There was also a number of rules that had to be enacted - a perimeter boundary to be enforced, square meterage of the market to be calculated to give maximum occupancy, volunteers to gate-keep the entrance and exits, one way traffic flow, sanitiser for all stallholders to be on hand, a social distancing monitors established, local police and council officials invited, item handling regulations to be written up to reduce chances of cross infection - the list goes on. Even the coffee van had to be strictly positioned, in order to minimise the attraction of lingering to talk with friends. The catchment area for the market was our local townspeople, but stall-holders were allowed to travel to the town from a distance away as, for many of them, this was normal business practice.

The market day was held on Anzac Day and after we'd all paid our respects at the dawn service from our homes (no wreath laying ceremonies allowed), we opened up and got going. It was a total success - and both council and police attendees expressed great satisfaction that the market had been run in such a professional manner. Some of the local residents were against it proceeding, believing it would increase the danger to the town, but on balance, given the number of people transiting through Mirboo North every day, the exposure was minimal.

It was certainly a lot safer than trying to shop in a supermarket, try as they might to effect social distancing and sanitisation. In addition, there was a palpable sense of connection for the people who attended - we were very lucky with the weather, so the combination of fresh air, sunshine and strict regulations meant many people were really happy to have attended and helped others keep in business.

So, don't be afraid of markets - if they're well run and everyone respects the rules, they are good places to be on a Saturday morning! And they help everyone who has a business close to the market site in the town/suburb keep going!

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