Original Released March 16th 2012

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 4th edition, just the week before CERES Organic Farm was given the all clear by Moreland City Council and the Department of Health, 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 City Council 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 City 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 test results had cleared produce sold at CERES and isolated the problem to a small number of 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 City Council 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.

Chris Ennis
CERES Fair Food and Organic Farm

If you would like to read more information, please visit CERES Safe Food.


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  1. hi, so unfortunate this has happened! perhaps you could be interviewed on a mainstream TV station, people may be influenced by what they read, but they seem to really pay attention to what they see on TV. A gardening show? TV news!? I will certainly do my bit and spread the word!

  2. That’s a really sad example, to add to many more, of the current ‘race to the bottom’ journalism plagueing our news at the moment. Poorly researched stories using inaccurate info catering to a market hungery for trash.

    I’m really saddened to hear about the impact of the article. Not overly suprising though considering the large advertising spend in that publication. It could be time to go on the front foot with some PR/communications of your own.

  3. Bless you guys. I will definitely be keeping anyone who mentions tuned in to what the real facts are.

    Has The Age published any retractions at all?

    I haven’t bought a box this week because I wouldn’t have been able to make it to pick it up, but we are even more behind CERES than ever … and may have to travel in from Belgrave over the next few weeks to visit the market.

    Chin up, guys

  4. We dont usually buy our fruit and veggies from you, however, this weekend we will make a special trip to show our support. We LOVE CERES and are sure you will be back on track in no time.

  5. The Sunday Age loves it’s sensational exclusives and I always take them with a grain of salt. Having shopped at CERES since the market opened, I read the article and thought that it was weird. Further web research confirmed that it was a poor article. Unfortanately too many people read it and believed it. A follow up in the Preston Leader with the real story is an absolute must. Although sales have been down at the market, CERES can recover if it goes on the offensive. It’s not fair, but it’s the way the media often works (I know because I work in it). The only way out is to get your own articles in the local paper, talk on radio, etc.
    best wishes.

  6. Hi,
    I assume you’ve already considered it, but have you thought about approaching the Age for a formal apology and retraction, and hopefully get the journalist a slap on the wrist?
    If he wrote that food was banned from sale, but it was not banned from sale. That sort of journalism is negligent, and it has caused CERES tangible economic loss. Should be able to get a response from the Age on this one.
    A response from the Age could be worked to get a positive media result, especially if it was combined with the story of “how much damage this negligently printed story has caused our struggling ethical business”.
    At the very least having your name in the media again, but with a good association, should be a beneficial outcome.

  7. I really hope you consider approaching the Age regarding this, as Matt suggested. After reading about this, I was curious about this Steve Holland person, so I googled his name. It appears that this is not the first time this so-called journalist has run a dodgy story. (Sorry to refer to the Australian… I couldn’t find a better source).

    I think it’s about a time this Steve Holland character learns a lesson. And I think the only way that is going to (hopefully) happen is if his poor and unethical practices are made known to his employer.

  8. I think you might be loosing business because your prices are too high. I know that my friends and I have stopped buying your produce because it’s average quality and often double the price of local organic produce stores. The worst part your all buying from the same supplier.

  9. The Age, the most trusted paper?

    Let’s not forget who just bought a controlling share in Fairfax. Australia’s richest woman… a mining magnate with more vested interest than you can throw a stick at.

    They are no better than Herald Sun, just swing the other way!

  10. Hypothetical course of action:

    1) Collate data showing the figures downturning and submit to The Age as proof of being negatively affected by their mis-reporting. Then,

    2) On these grounds, request a spotlight piece to aide the direction of customers back to you.

    After all, as Neil82 and Adam have shown, it’s not the first time Steve Holland stuffed it!

  11. Sue the age for defamation. Specifically sue the actual reporter and editor who published the false report.
    Ask for a large retraction and positive story in the newspaper.

  12. Curiously, my response to this controversy is to reduce my readership of media published under the Fairfax masthead to one blog on the Brisbane Times site.

    I will contact The Age and let them know I will return to them once Steven Holland has departed.

  13. The Sunday Age has always been somewhat… less reliable… than the regular Age in my view – a bit more tabloid. I’m sad to hear about the negative impact. Ceres has always been (even now that I live in Sydney) a significant and important part of my community.

  14. That damn Holland article has been a wake up call, highlighting the need to really critically evaluate the stories that we are fed trough the mainstream media. Sadly, it seems that dodgy reporting with twisted facts are more the norm rather than the exception, but this is the world we live in, full of mongrels with motives. If Ceres take a long term view on this issue, i think a strong, ongoing PR presence in the papers could be helpful. A campaign of sorts. Good luck. (We missed our order last week as we were at golden plains, but will get one in this week for sure!)

  15. Thanks for posting rhis Charlotte. CERES do such a great service to the community and their food is über healthy. Shame on The Age for publishing such shoddy facts. The Age should publish a front page formal apology so CERES can rightfully get their good name back and their lost customers will come back. Farner’s markets provide better food than any supermarkets that’s for sure.

  16. Sounds like CERES is suffering significant damage because of this defamatory article.

    You would be amiss not to sue them.

  17. Why don’t you take your story to the Herald Sun or mX?

    They love a good opportunity to put the boot into The Age, and it gives them a headline that will appeal to those that may not usually read those papers. I can see it now: “Dirty Fairfax reporting affects local farmers and jobs”.

  18. Hi Chris,
    Such a beautifully written response. Thanks for explaining it all so eloquently. As a CERES worker with her job on the line, I really appreciate how well this terrible situation has been explained. It saddens me that this paper has caused so much damage to so many of my colleagues. What justice can be done?

  19. Sorry, but the journalist has reported this based on the information they had – if the head of an organisation like CERES is stupid enough to respond to hypothetical questions from a journalist based on unpublished reports, they should expect the resulting reportage to be inaccurate and likely unfavourable. If I was a CERES staff member, i’d be asking serious questions about the leadership, not the newspaper.
    (i have no connections with either, BTW)

  20. I’m so sorry to hear that your business, and a hugely important Melbourne community organisation has been affected.

    You and your supporters could:
    1. Ask for a formal retraction and correction to be posted on the same page that the original article appeared on and that the online articles be removed or run with a prominent correction. Keep on at the editor, Gay Alcorn, until she apologises.
    2. Make a formal complaint to the Press Council.
    3. Make a formal complaint to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance ethics panel.
    4. Contact Media Watch.
    5. Contact The Australian’s media section
    6. Go on the front foot with your publicity and tell everyone by Facebook, Twitter, blogs, press releases and articles that the Sunday Age’s scare story was wrong, wrong, wrong.
    7. Ask The Age if Epicure/Gardening pages can do an article on Ceres which might help undo some of the damage.
    8. Get in touch with the Herald Sun’s features editor and ask if their food/gardening section would be interested in doing a piece on Ceres.
    9. Never talk to this reporter again!!!

  21. Fight fire with fire CERES, straight to ACurrent Affair( or eqiuvalent) with a proposal that they expose the corrupt journo who operated a smear campaign against you and posted dishonest slander in an attempt to destroy you. Might not be sensationalist enough tho’. What a dirty game.

  22. A lot of you are saying “meh, the Sunday Age is a sensationalist unreliable tabloid” – the problem is, that with the Online part of the paper, you can’t really tell the difference between the Sunday or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc papers.

  23. Guys,
    Get onto the Sunday Age, get a retraction, get them to remove the articles from the website, and get an apology at the least.
    Report them to media watch.
    Report them to a television current affairs program, they love slamming the papers.
    Do everything Sarah Jane said in her reply.
    Get onto them hard, because they will ignore you if you do not.
    The Herald Sun reported my grans house being burned to the ground, killing all occupants, the fire happened at the other end of the street, my dad was frantic when he could not get onto any family. For an hour he thought his parents had perished in a fire. The papers are being written by little shits who will not pause to get their facts right. The only was to get back is to hit back, and as hard as you can.

  24. Of course I don’t want to see ceres name rubbished by sloppy journalism, but this has raised a question that has long been on my mind: that the ceres is a an ex landfill and it may not be the best place to grow food for eating. By all means repair the land, build beautiful gardens, educate kids and adults alike about the virtues of organic food, etc. But if the soil in some of the community garden patches is contaminated, I would think it highly likely that the honey lane patch is or could be too. What is the basis for Ceres’ organic certification? I have been told that Honey lane topsoil is certified, therefore any shallow root plants are fine. Could you clear this up chris? If you do want to reassure people, the more facts the better. All the best

  25. Folks, newspapers are businesses created to make money. As good as it feels to trust the media, we must be savvy and always remember the sensationalist story makes the money. I’m sorry I too got sucked in by this one. Good luck CERES. Keep getting the word out, in every way you can.

  26. Dear concerned, Honey Lane was certified organic after 3 years of NASAA, our certifying body, independently testing plant soil and tissue samples from leafy & root veg and fruits before CERES was permitted to operate as an organic farm.

    The latest tissue and soil tests taken by the Moreland Council show that Honey Lane is still a safe site to grow food.

    I agree with you that if Honey Lane wasn’t safe for farming we wouldn’t grow food there and simply concentrate on the garden’s main purpose which is education.

    CERES Organic Farm Manager

  27. Thank you to CERES for their transparent and honest handling of this unfortunate issue. We love CERES and know that they put every effort into producing great organic food!!! Don’t let bad press get you down….your loyal supporters know the truth! Onwards and upwards.

  28. Having tested many backyards for lead now (as part of Very Edible Garden’s Soil Doctor service) we have not yet found any with as low a lead level as the results for Honey Lane market garden. Admittedly we’re usually testing un-improved soils, whereas the Honey Lane tests came from veggie beds. If anyone is concerned about lead in soil you can contact us http://www.veryediblegardens.com, or go to http://www.lead.org.au for home test kits.

    There are some simple strategies for minimising the chance of transferring lead to food, and it’s worth knowing about them. That said, probably the main way people expose themselves to lead and create problems for children is INSIDE the house, or painting the outside, especially when doing renovations or sanding lead paint.

  29. The Editor of the paper should have checked the sources very carefully as the poor piece of Journalism tarnishes the reputation of the paper. I continue to stand by local food networks & hope Ceres Environment park continues to support education projects for the children & beyond that, communities who connect through the network. MEAA would do well to ensure the Journalists check facts first.

  30. So sad to hear of this unfounded and damaging report about a company who are such an important part of the community. Their produce and service is second to none and it would be such a massive injustice if this news article were to damage a company or its fantasic workforce. At a time when people are looking for better quality and personal service it would be hard to go past Ceres. Keep up the great work

  31. I find the age a waste of paper pulp so am fortunate I did not know of of this excellent job of reporting
    Rule no.1 Never let the truth get in the way of a good story
    Glad Ceres didn’t take it lying down
    keep up the good work

  32. That is criminal journalism. This kind of reporting needs to be punished. Defamation! We love you CERES and we support you whole heartedly.