By Connor Lynch
May is normally when farmers’ market season kicks off but the outbreak of COVID-19 has scuppered those plans. Despite the province designating them essential businesses, stringent social distancing requirements are too much for some to handle.
Many urban markets like the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and Peterborough Farmers’ Market are shut down because they lease city buildings and the cities have shut them down. But even some rural markets are shutting down for the foreseeable future. Market manager Lynne Parks runs the McDonalds Corners Farmers’ Market, a 15-vendor, all-local, all-producer market that ran last year from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving on Saturdays.
Markets that want to open have to submit a plan to their local health unit, among other restrictions, which can include its own stipulations. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (which oversees the McDonalds Corners Market) required that the outdoor market become a drive-thru market where people prepay. Said Parks: “It’ll flatten us.”
Parks said markets have also been ordered to drop many of the social aspects that make them attractive: No sampling, no strolling and no communal seating. Her market has live entertainment and is as much about socializing as shopping.
“There’s no way for us to have people stay in their cars and get pre-ordered produce brought out to the car. It’s very restrictive.”
In the meantime, the market is instead directing customers to individual vendors. “All our vendors seem quite happy to wait it out and come back next year. And if things calm down, maybe there’ll be a way to get together later in the season. Until then, it’ll be virtual markets.”
Some markets have a work around. The Almonte Farmers’ Market planned to open May 16, offering produce pickup only; the Campbellford market swapped locations and dropped from three days to Saturdays only with produce pickup; and the Combermere market was working with its health unit and planned to open at its usual time, the second Saturday in June. The Athens market closed until further notice while offering online orders for pickup and delivery.
Farmers’ Markets Ontario, the industry organization that represents many (though not all) markets in Ontario, said that it’s looking into online options so farmers’ markets can function online.
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