The tone for customers of the newly-opened Lindsay Farmers Market was set by a hand-lettered scene at the single entry-point, in the library parking lot: “For the time being: Think of the market as an outdoor grocery store not a place to visit your neighbour.”
It had taken the market’s executive a month and a half to put together COVID-19 protocols and secure approvals. The health unit, the provincial farmers’ market association, and the city’s economic development department were all involved.
“There was a lot of paperwork and back and forth,” says the executive’s Mary Kennedy, “but that was completely understandable. Keeping everyone safe is the number one priority.”
It was a new normal for the market. None of the usual multi-generational family groups wandering up and down the boulevard, dogs in tow, chatting with neighbours and their favourite vendors.
Much of what market goers would expect in late May was on offer: freshly-cut asparagus and rhubarb, baked goods, vegetable and herb seedlings, and maple syrup; for the excluded pets, dog treats; for takeaway, Taste of Russia. But no crafts, furniture or other non-food items (though, oddly, Lane’s End Farms was allowed to sell cuts of lamb and chicken, but not their lamb and chicken meat pies).
Altogether 20 vendors had been approved and 10 of those set up for opening day, spacing themselves out along Victoria Avenue with yellow warning tape ringing the perimeter.
Market helpers controlled entry and encouraged hand-sanitizing. Shoppers followed arrows on the roadway to make a counter-clockwise circuit, but were trusted to do their own social distancing. No baskets or reusable bags were allowed — everything was bundled into plastic bags by the vendors, and only vendors handled the items. If you wanted to know whether that chocolate mint really did have a chocolate scent you had to wait until after your purchase to crush a leaf. (Spoiler: it does!)
Regular market goers were pleased to have part of their Saturday morning routine back. Laura Marshall, who had come to the market for a pot of basil and zucchini seedlings from Con Costaki and some dog treats and birdseed from Save-on-Seed, commented, “It was a glimmer of normalcy.”
For another regular, Leanne Cunningham, market opening was a hopeful sign during COVID-19. “It reinforced my belief that together we can figure things out,” she said. She enjoyed seeing familiar faces among the vendors and was particularly happy to see the return of Igor Trotchine and his perogies.
The poster at the entrance may have asked customers to regard the market as an outdoor grocery store, but there were interactions you’d never see at a Loblaws or Food Basics. One vendor instructed a customer on how to grow bush beans then bundled a handful of his yellow bean seed into a bag (“No charge!). Another took time to tell the story behind a particularly flavorful tomato variety, Piedmont Pear (almost all the 10-year-old seed saved from fruit she’d been given by a customer had germinated).
Many attendees commented on how the market set-up created a sense of comfort. “I never felt stressed or unsafe” said Bonnie O’Neill, who was at the market to buy seedlings for the community garden.
For the vendors and the organizers, the first morning was a real success. As the market wound down just before 1 pm, they reported sales had been just fine, and for some items very brisk. Asparagus, rhubarb and the perogies were sold-out by 11 am.
If numbers were down a little from last year, that wasn’t a concern for the organizers. Kennedy had been looking for a “soft opening,” — a chance to work out any kinks. Overall she was pleased with the first morning, particularly the respectful following of the rules. The few that brought dogs were understanding when told of the strict guidelines which were, after all, required by the health unit, city, and ultimately the province.
Next up will be the first of the Thursday markets at Wilson Fields off St. Joseph St. It will run from 10 am to 3 pm. Herb and vegetable seedlings, some preserves, dried meat and cheese from five of 14 approved vendors will be available.
Next Saturday expect some additional vendors, among them maybe mushroom seller Al of Waymac Farms, who was holding off until he had a supply of a new variety he’s trying out, and Shirley’s Baked goods (a reliable source of hot sauce and Carribean takeaway).
The hope is to build on what was a solid start and welcome increasing numbers of customers making the effort to support local producers, something that also pays off for those customers. As King’s Wharf Garden’s Bev Delenardo observed, “If there’s one thing we’ve learned from COVID-19, it’s to keep things local.”