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As the Coronavirus death toll soars and the lockdown continues, we talk to key workers in our food system about how they're faring and what have been the highs and lows in these unprecedented times.
Kerry Rankine, who runs the GC Farmer's Market, has been doing an exemplary job of making the market a safe space for shoppers and farmers alike.
The farmers' market (as a food market) has special dispensation to remain open under the new rules - as the government has recognised the vital role that markets such as ours play in feeding their local population. The strict social distancing measures and the resources that GC has put in to enforcing the new rules have been a big contributing factor. We're really grateful for the cooperation and support we've had from our local community for our market and the farmers.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
“For me personally, the challenge has been the responsibility of keeping the farmers (and their families) safe as well as keeping our customers and community safe too. Not sure if everyone has quite appreciated that by coming up to London - where the incidence of C-19 is so much higher, farmers risk taking infection back to their farms, families and communities. This could have catastrophic affects for their health as well as on the ability of the farmers to carry out vital farm tasks such as planting out at one of the busiest times of the year to ensure we have crops later on!
"This has meant a real re-think for me of many of our normal practices. It's included working out with the farmers which members of their normal staff should definitely not be doing our market. Eg. one of our usual farm workers who does the market every week lives with his mum who is a care worker, his sister (a paramedic) and his dad (a critical worker in a local school which needs to stay open). So, I've been working with some of the farmers to try and change round the teams attending the market to put more emphasis on London-based staff - and then on protocols to keep London staff and the person coming up from the farm apart... which is tricky but can be done.”
What's been the most gratifying thing?
“Managing to keep the market going and to get the positive feedback about the measures we've put in place - and to know that our customers are continuing to get the food they need.
"I'm very grateful to our customers who've been very patient and have queued beautifully and mostly cheerfully – I had some great feedback last week from a customer who said 'I feel safer at the market than anywhere else I've been shopping in Hackney'.
"Another customer recently commented, 'it's so great the market is still open - apart from getting the fresh food I need, it's a welcome bit of normality in this current situation and really makes me feel better'.
"Hearing things like this from our regulars really makes my day.”
What do you think the next six months will be like?
“I'm concerned about farmers' ability to harvest food as we get further into the lockdown and the spread of C-19 affects their staff. Looking further ahead, I do have a tiny hope that this crisis will bring about a re-think across our wider society about the importance of things we've taken for granted from how our food gets to us and the key role of the farmers and fishermen who produce it - to the people collecting our bins and keeping our cities functioning and the NHS workers on the front line. I'd also like some acknowledgement of the huge contribution (and sacrifices) made by those who "come from somewhere else" or whose parents did - to all the key jobs that keep our society going.”