By Connor Lynch
BRAESIDE — You’d be forgiven for thinking that farms that rely on drive-in business at roadside stands or farmers’ markets are struggling. COVID-19 and physical proximity get along about as well as a mongoose and a cobra.
But as roadside stands and farmers markets entered their biggest sales season of the year, many farmers said they were doing surprisingly well.
At McGregor’s Produce in Braeside, business was humming right along in June. Deb McGregor, whose family runs the farm, said they started slowly, opening just the on-farm stand (normally one of their least-trafficked stands) to feel out customer interest. Things seemed to be going well, so they opened two more satellite stands at Pembroke and Renfrew on June 12. Said McGregor: “It’s been awesome, right from the get go.”
While fewer stands (the farm reduced its 13 stands to six) mean less profit, the McGregors were cautiously optimistic. They also have fewer migrant workers — nine, not the usual 24 — saving them substantially on labour costs.
The farm also offers pick-your-own strawberries and the phones have been ringing and ringing for that, McGregor said. Though too early to say, she said they were expecting it to be busier than normal, just from all the interest.
Everything leading up to actually selling produce has just been a big whirlwind of stress, she added. Finally getting back to the business of business has been a chance to “breathe a sigh of relief.”
Meanwhile at Avonmore Berry Farm, their singular stand at Cornwall has been selling well, said owner David Phillips. “People are getting their hands on anything they can get,” he said. As an added bonus, the farmers markets he normally frequents at Cornwall, Maxville and Long Sault have reopened, giving him another sales venue.
The smaller farmers’ markets have also re-opened for business and are pleased with sales. The Stittsville Farmers Market with six vendors (only food-selling vendors were allowed), west of urban Ottawa, has been open since May 28. Market owner Mandy Faulkner said that setting up the physical infrastructure was actually easier than going online and by mid-June going online was still a work in progress.
At the Kanata Farmers Markets, farmer and market owner Anne-Marie Rochon said the market got to a slow start but had since picked up. The 14-vendor market in Ottawa’s west end saw foot traffic return to normal by mid-June, she said. “Every weekend’s been better than the last.”
Many of the larger farmers markets opted to go online only as they were unable to manage crowds and staff numbers in tight proximity.
Kemptville Farmers Market with 19 vendors opened on June 14 in a parking lot and the day rivalled the busiest days from previous seasons, said market manager Stacey Johnson. There was a lineup before the market even opened and lasted for two hours. Only 30 people were allowed in at a time, she said.