By Connor Lynch
ST. THOMAS — It’s not typical for a farm with nine acres of space for weddings and events to find its summer schedule empty. COVID-19 can be thanked for that.
But a wide-open space and a wide-open schedule also proved to be an opportunity for Wildflowers Farm at St. Thomas. The nearby Horton Farmers’ Market had worked out alternate strategies to ensure social distancing and get a stamp of approval from the local health unit. But town council voted to close down the market for this year.
That’s when Jane and Chuck Magri, who run Wildflowers Farm and sold their honey and herbal tea at the market, got to thinking they could host the market.
It took fewer than 48 hours to get a plan together and approval from the local health unit, Jane Magri said. Much of the information on how to set up a safe market was already publicly available, she said. “So when the news came out, we knew we had the space, the setup, and a completely free schedule, which is unheard of. So we thought: ‘Let’s do it.’”
The market, Wildflowers Farmers Market at 42338 Fruit Ridge Line, was to open on June 5 and run every Friday until Oct. 9. About 20 vendors will offer food only, with the majority having items on-site, while others offer pre-order only, she said. A number of Mennonite farmers, a mainstay at the Horton market, will be there as well, she said. “One of our main goals was to get ahold of the Mennonite community as well. They don’t use the internet and don’t have access to alternative ways of selling.”
Magri added that as the season progresses and more products come into season, she was expecting the market to grow.
Farmers’ markets have had to be creative, said Farmers’ Markets Ontario director Catherine Clark. Some have gone entirely online, either directing customers directly to farmers or offering curbside pickup or delivery only. But some have opened physically, though some of those markets were offering online sales as well. By late May, only four markets in Ontario had confirmed they weren’t going to be going ahead with a season at all, and some 25 were working to go online, said Clark. There’s been contraction as well, with markets having to drop vendors to be able to open. But not farmers; in fact, they’re the only vendors allowed, according to provincial rules.
It’s come down to feasibility, she said. Local health units have to sign off on plans for either physical or digital markets, and some of the smallest farmers’ markets simply don’t have the manpower or expertise to meet the sometimes stringent requirements. But few markets have thrown in the towel entirely, she said.
Of the markets that have already opened, even if its only entirely online, have been doing strong sales, she said.
Creative under COVID: Farmers’ markets find ways to open: One market relocates to a farm
By Connor Lynch