In this column, VegNET Regional Development Officer Sam Grubiša discusses the effect COVID-19 has had on the world, the activities that have been undertaken during and after lockdown, and how WA’s growers are being supporting during these tough times.

After an all-round tough end to 2019, the promise of a new year rejuvenated all who were touched by the magical, golden rays of summer sunshine.

As drought-stricken farmers finally got a little rain and the amazing men and women, who eventually tamed the beast of Mother Nature’s fury of fire, were released from duty, we all breathed a little easier as we faced a new day on his big, beautiful brown land of ours. That was until 2020 stood up, stretched, cracked its knuckles, and said, “hang on a sec… hold my Corona!”

With 2020 trying its best to out-do its predecessor, it makes me proud to be part of an industry that a) refuses to curl up in a corner and cry; and b) continues to produce superb, health sustaining fresh produce to feed a nation in need.

While being a grower in today’s ‘COVID new world’ isn’t all rainbows and lollipops; whether you’re Vietnamese, Croatian or generationally Australian, you adhere to the virtues synonymous with the beloved ‘Aussie battler’. An insurmountable ability to improvise, survive and a hint of the anti-authoritarian is what pushes these great men and women to continue providing for their neighbours, communities, and country.

As VegNET Regional Development Officers, Truyen Vo and I have been busy working on the VegNET Regional Strategy, as well as sourcing relevant work, health and safety (WH&S), business and trade information to add to our organisation’s COVID-19 resources page.

However, we are both aware that ‘The Farm Stops for No Man…or virus’, so we’ve been trolling through national and international research, holding webinars, translating documents (okay, that’s more the legendary Truyen than me!), searching permits and working out how we can support our growers best in this time of isolation.

Recent activities

During WA’s lockdown, we held a biosecurity webinar with AUSVEG’s Callum Fletcher and Maddy Quirk along with Michelle Portelli from Hort Innovation. This focused on tomato-potato psyllid, fall armyworm and Michelle’s appointment as International Year of Plant Health – Events Coordinator. As always, it was a delight to catch up with the ‘brains trust’ of Aussie biosecurity.

Post-WA lockdown, we had the wonderful Dr SP Singh from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries join us for a webinar update of all things melon safety. That webinar went international – a win for extension and food safety!

Within vegetablesWA, we have been supporting Labour Facilitator Melissa Denning with grower introductions and language assistance and we’ve been working on accreditation courses with the Quality Assurance Coordinator Joel Dinsdale.

In early August, I also had a fun morning in “The Hills” with vegeteblesWA colleagues Karen Raybould and Amber Atkinson, after we were asked to present at Mundaring Christian College’s Careers Information Day. As a truck driving farm girl, I had my concerns about speaking to a group of 15-18-year olds. I shouldn’t have worried as the kids were engaged and surprised me with their knowledge and correct answers to my ‘Sneaky Hort Facts’.

The final word

COVID-19 has hit hard on a global scale, and it’s important (for your own sanity) to find little things to make you smile.

As I write this – with a million tabs open on my computer, a pen in my hair and surrounded by strategy documents – I smile when I look outside, and see the sun shining and brilliant blue sky.

Spring brings with it the reawakening of nature and the promise of new life, and boy are we living a new way of life! Dedication, perseverance and a spare pair of trackies in the ute may not protect you from a virus; however, in my mind, they are three things that are essential to pushing through the hard times that we find ourselves in.

Keep safe, stay strong and find a reason to smile!

VegNET RDO Sam Grubiša.

Find out more

Please contact Sam Grubiša at sam.grubisa@vegetableswa.com.au.

VegNET – Western Australia is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG19016

Cover image: vegetablesWA Operations Manager Karen Raybould and VegNET RDO Sam Grubiša present at the Mundaring Christian College’s Careers Information Day.

This article features in the spring 2020 edition of Vegetables Australia. Click here to read the full publication.