Practices and ideas around sustainable agriculture and quality food production is fundamental to the self-identity of the Margaret River region. And Katrina Lombardo’s role as manager of the Margaret River Farmers’ Market is one of a group of people integral to ensuring the health of this sector: without a local outlet at which to sell their produce, small-scale regional farmers are incapable of surviving.
This is why Katrina works so hard: not only to make sure the integrity of the marker as a produce market is maintained, but to take measures to reassure both he community and farmers that the market remains a safe place to shop in the time of COVID-19.
“We couldn’t even think about the market stopping,” says Katrina, who’s notched up 10 years as market manager, along with running the Margaret River Night Market, the latter of which is on hold until further notice.
“People need food. It’s one thing for (larger scale commercial) industry to stop, but we need some things in the local economy to keep going, and nourish our community.”
And continue to nourish it does. Though scaled down from the market our regional visitors normally flock to in droves (the 60-some stalls of pre-corona times has whittled to around 25 each week), the essentials remain. There is fruit and veg. Fresh pasta. Local meat. Freshly grown herbs. Pomegranates. Woodfired sourdough. Cakes. Italian sweets. Katrina and the vendors have established hand sanitation points, all payment is now contactless (maybe one of the biggest changes), and now the market website allows for online ordering and box pick up each Friday afternoon before the Saturday morning market, for those in the community who are vulnerable or simply uncertain about heading out.
“The producers need to keep producing,” says Kat, explaining in part the motivation behind her flexibility in response and her creative and industrious management. “There are farmers with food that is in the ground, and meat that has been growing and animals that have to be slaughtered at certain ages. It’s about supporting everybody to have access to the local food system.”
The focus of Katrina and her predecessors on keeping the Farmers’ Market an “authentic market” – so no crafts or cosmetics, just locally produced food and cut flowers – means the local institution has been designated an essential community service by the Australian Government.
Of course the Farmers’ Market has always been about more than food. It has its own integrated social network. People come each week knowing they will chat to familiar vendors and bump into friends – now spoken with at an authorised distance of 1.5 metres. Just as they come to re-connect with what makes the Margaret River region such a special place: a communal allegiance to preservation of the natural environment. The Farmers’ Market signifies community dedication to eating locally and sustainably of produce grown by farmers determined to nurture the land that’s in their care.
Farmer’s care for the land. And Katrina takes care to ensure that local consumers can help close the circle and take care of them.
Image Credit: Lauren Trickett @laurentrickettphoto
Want to discover more of the Margaret River region’s Food Heroes? Local contributor Sarina Kamini is documenting the series