Farmers’ markets are an essential component of local food systems.
Fortunately, as businesses that primarily sell food, they have also officially been deemed an essential workplace under Ontario’s Emergency Order. So, on Saturday, May 22, the Collingwood Downtown Farmers’ Market returned for its 18th anniversary season.
Throughout the year, vendors have been busy planting, growing, baking and harvesting their products to get ready for the occasion, because for most of them, the market is more than just an essential workplace — it’s their livelihood.
“You would be surprised how much you help small businesses at a farmers’ market,” said Tony DeMaria, owner of D&D Meats in Alliston.
D&D Meats was one of the very first vendors to register for the Collingwood Downtown Farmers’ Market almost two decades ago, and DeMaria hasn’t missed a year since.
“It helps us get our products to our customers in Collingwood,” DeMaria said. “They love them, Collingwood is one of the best markets we go to.”
As the name implies, a Farmers' Market also supports farms by creating a customer base and way for both farmer and consumer to connect.
Good Family Farms registered for the Farmers’ Market for the first time this year. Established in 2015, the 400-acre farm is located in Meaford, and attending the Collingwood market allows them to get their products directly to their consumers.
“We have a farm store on our property and wanted to bring awareness to that fact, as well as let people in Collingwood know where we are and get to see more customers and more faces,” said Mitchell Good, co-owner and the livestock manager at Good Family Farms.
The organic farm focuses on sustainable agriculture and has started incorporating techniques to regenerate some of the land, but the owners realized these regenerative practices take a considerable amount of time, energy and money.
“For us to go through restaurants and butchers and grocery stores, it doesn’t make sense,” said Good. “We want to connect directly to the consumer so we can incur as much of our margins as possible. This gives us another avenue to sell some of our products.”
Last year, the Downtown Farmers’ Market didn’t open in May as planned due to uncertainty, and vendors in Collingwood and across the province petitioned to get the markets classified as an essential service.
“I think being able to support small businesses and create a space where people can come and find them all in one spot is as essential as it gets,” said Good. “It is as essential as Costco being open… Definitely more so.”
Even distanced and with mask-covered faces, Good said he feels the warm welcome from market visitors and loves answering questions about the farm and its products.
“People being able to know exactly where their food is coming from, I think benefits everybody involved,” said Good. “It allows people to get to know their farmer and get to ask questions about where their food comes from.”
The Downtown Farmers’ Market currently has about 35 different vendors, most of which have been participating in the market for several years.
“We are excited that we have been able to add a few new ones this year and hopefully as the summer goes on, we can add more vendors as well,” said Sam Ball, communications and promotions coordinator for the Collingwood Downtown BIA and manager of the Downtown Farmers’ Market.
The market is smaller than in non-COVID years and everyone inside the market area is required to wear a mask and follow the flow set up by the market organizers. Capacity is limited and entrances and exits to the lot are controlled.
But the changes haven't all been about reducing what's available at the market.
Changes to provincial legislation have meant that this year, a handful of local craft breweries and distilleries have joined the Collingwood Farmers’ Market, in addition to the offerings of wineries and cideries, which were available previously.
Northwinds Brewery, Collingwood Brewery and Heretic Spirits are three local producers that have capitalized on this opportunity so far.
“It’s bloody awesome,” said Scott Morrison, CEO of Heretic Spirits. “The biggest thing for us is that it really is an exciting opportunity to be able to interact with the people who are consuming our products.”
It is difficult for small-scale craft beverage companies to get into large retail stores, and even if they do, they tend to produce their products in a warehouse or facility and don’t get to interact with their customers on a personal level.
“It’s extremely gratifying, it’s really nice to be face-to-face,” said Morrison. “It's been a tremendous change that was brought about, not just for distilleries but for breweries as well, and we’re very excited to be participating."
As the summer progresses and restrictions ease, Ball said the market is hopeful to be able to welcome back artisan vendors as well.
“Supporting local is big in Collingwood, even pre-COVID. A lot of the stuff at the market you can’t get at a grocery store. But especially now, it’s important to support the local vendors and producers in the area,” said Ball.
“And it’s great for the community,” he added. “People like getting out on Saturday morning.”
The Collingwood Downtown Farmers’ Market will operate Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. through the Thanksgiving weekend.