farmers markets

This is what farmers' markets in Canada might be like when they reopen

Farmers’ markets across Canada have been working hard to modify market protocols including implementing social distancing measures and transitioning to food-only sales in order to operate safely this summer.

Orit Sarfaty, chief program officer at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, says the site's year-round farmers’ market, which used to operate each Saturday, will look much different once it reopens.

Some of the changes will include more space between vendors, limiting capacity, installing Plexiglass at booths, more frequent cleaning and sanitizing, and limiting cash payments.

Sarfaty says they’re also considering separating the 11-acre property into smaller sections to make it easier for staff to monitor social distancing.

They also plan on continuing Farm in a Box, which has been running since the physical market suspended operations back in mid March. 

The online service allows customers to pre-order a bundle of fresh produce from local farmers for pick-up. Customers can choose between a produce, dairy, or meat and fish box, with vendors changing from week to week.

Sarfaty says the first two weeks worth of boxes sold out the first day they went online.

“It has preserved some irreducible parts of what the farmers' market is and has also expanded the number of people that can benefit from farm fresh foods.”

Evergreen’s market isn’t alone when it comes to going virtual.

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market in Saskatchewan also switched to an online store for pick-up and deliveries when it voluntarily closed its doors at the onset of the pandemic.

“We adopted a virtual model for sale of farmers’ market products immediately after closing – within one week,” said Erika Quiring, executive director.

“Many vendors donated their time as volunteers and resources from their vehicles to be able to manage the shift.”

With a modified market now open, Quiring says spacing out booths will mean decreased vendors and limiting capacity to 50 customers in the building at a time will lead to a dip in profits. Despite the challenges, she hopes business can be sustained.

Executive director of BC Association of Farmers’ Market (BCAFM), Heather O’Hara remains optimistic that markets will see a resurgence as shoppers become more locally-minded.

“This is a moment where people are starting to say, ‘I really need to support local businesses’ – and a lot of that happens at farmers' markets,” she said.

“I think that’s going to be a lesson and something I hope that grows the amount of people who choose to shop like this.”

O’Hara says the pandemic pushing markets to embrace technology has been another silver lining. Over 60 members of BCAFM have already added an online store through BC Markets Online over the last few months.

At the same time, the full in-person market experience has been put on hold due to physical distancing and the 'shop, don’t stop' approach to visiting a market in light of the health crisis. 

“That's unfortunate because a lot of the spirit, spark and interest in the market is that community gathering space, and people mingling and experiencing things," said O'Hara. "Certainly that’s a loss for now, but hopefully not a loss forever.”

Sarfaty says Evergreen's market will focus on continuing this sense of community while still maintaining physical distancing through public art, music and open-air theatre productions once they're up and running again. 

“It was a kind of lovely chaos being scrunched under a pavilion roof and being all together, but it's not the only way. There are many other ways of feeling like you’re part of something bigger.”

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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