(from Chris Ennis - Manager, CERES Fair Food and Organic Farm)
What's the worst thing that can happen to an environment park that educates kids and grows food? A contamination scare that breaks in the city's most trusted paper.
Appearing on page three of The Sunday Age, March 5th edition, just the week before CERES Organic Farm was given the all clear by Moreland Council and the EPA, a feature article reported, "produce grown at CERES banned from sale" because of lead contamination. The timing of Steve Holland's article could not have been worse or more mischievous.
If The Sunday Age had bothered to check their story, the real but far less newsworthy story would have revealed that Moreland Council and EPA testing had found five privately leased community garden plots with lead levels slightly over ANZFSC limits and that produce from CERES Organic Farm had never been contaminated or banned from sale. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story they say.
When I read the article, including a quote from CERES chairperson, Robert Larocca, which seemed to back up the story, my first thoughts were, "That's not right and why would Robert confirm it?"
And then I found out how some journalists work and it all became clear. At the time of the interview in January the final Moreland Council test results hadn't come out but Steve Holland obtained a leaked version of the preliminary results. The document had the test results but not the locations of the tests. Wrongly assuming the results referred to the CERES Organic Farm instead of the community garden plots, Holland used the report to ask Robert Larocca what he would say to people who could have eaten contaminated CERES produce? Larocca's reply was, "It is unfortunate it has happened and we are sorry for that. A very small number of people will have purchased that [contaminated food], including myself.'' It was an honest answer to a hypothetical question but Holland used the quote make it seem like CERES had actually been selling contaminated produce without ever checking his story was correct.
Two months passed before the article was finally published. It would have only taken a simple phone call to discover that Council and EPA test results had cleared produce sold at CERES and isolated the problem to five 4x4m community garden plots not accessible to the general public. But no phone call was made, the story went to print and all hell broke loose.
I've been feeling sick about this for the last fortnight. I used to trust The Age. I read it every day, but now I feel like CERES' good name has been destroyed by sloppy journalism and a paper eager for a controversial story. Two weeks later and it's all old news; Moreland Council and the EPA came out with their test results clearing CERES Organic Farm, new articles have been written with the facts but fear is a powerful motivator and people are turning away from CERES. The damage has been done.
The outcome has been immediate for CERES; Fair Food orders are down, the Market is quiet. We are reducing what we buy from the 50 plus Victorian farmers and processors who depend on us for their income. Our packers and drivers are losing shifts and CERES will need to take money away from environmental education programs to cover the financial losses of Fair Food and Market. So much damage caused by a few careless words.
We can't beat this alone. CERES has always lived and died on the support of our community, so we're asking you to tell your friends the real story, to share it through your networks. We're asking you to stand by our farmers and our packers & drivers by placing your Fair Food orders and by shopping at CERES Market. We're asking you to stand up for CERES.
CERES Fair Food and Organic Farm
If you would like to read more information, go to CERES Safe Food