Back in March of this year, Chris Trivisonno, from the Centretown Community Association (CCA), called me to learn more about the Ottawa farmers’ market scene. The CCA was thinking of introducing a market onto Elgin Street and had been referred to me as someone that had done something similar.
I told him how I had started the Beechwood Market in 2014 as a community gathering spot; a place for families to congregate, a venue to truly support local businesses and a weekly experience within comfortable walking/biking distance for residents. He recognized it as the model they were after.
Since that momentous conversation, I have been working with a dynamite crew of CCA volunteers to get the Elgin Street Market off the ground. The committee, guided by the natural leadership of, Shawn Barber, quickly defined roles and responsibilities. I was to assume all operational duties and the CCA would take care of community engagement. Egos were set aside and all focus turned to the project. Weekly Zoom calls, a half dozen site meetings and plenty of back and forth were required to get us to where we are now - week six of a successful farmers’ market.
Residents come out every week in the hundreds to enjoy live music, local produce and prepared foods. The venue, the new Boushey Square (Waverley at Elgin), is perfect and our vendor roster has doubled.
Shawn sums up the last few months well, "We saw a real opportunity to use Boushey Square as a place to bring people together as a community. And they love it! All our many volunteers have a real sense of accomplishment."
In a neighbourhood characterized by construction for two years, the people of Centretown deserve nice things.
The new Official Plan will be the hot topic when City Council heads back to work in September. They will invoke terms like climate emergency, 15 minute neighbourhoods, community development and sustainability. In one small project our compact group has addressed all of these merit able goals.
There were challenges along the way and we certainly did not do this without help.
The aforementioned, Chris Trivisonno (or Chrissy T, as I’ve renamed him to distinguish between the two of us) has been the liaison between our group and City staff. He told me, ‘Councillor McKenney and the city staff have been very supportive of our efforts. The CCA hopes that the city will continue to take concrete steps to promote community farmers’ markets.’
My vision is to introduce small farmers’ markets into each neighbourhood in Ottawa. In fact, I have officially proposed it to Councilors and staff in the past.
With this model of a ‘Community Market’ there is no big box feel, vendors are accessible and the atmosphere relaxed. You realize very quickly that you are supporting your rural cousins, a basement start up or a family of four.
It also becomes apparent that you walked there in less than 15 minutes, left your car at home and can see yourself doing this every weekend.
By introducing this beating heart into each community, we can help the City reach its Official goals by presenting consistently reliable and enjoyable market venues at the local level. The Elgin Street Market has proved that this is realistically feasible; that grassroots efforts are still very much a thing.
I hope to hear from more community associations, engaged citizens and people that have perhaps grown weary of waiting for the City to ‘plan’ their neighbourhoods.
I’ll drop the mic on a very applicable Jane Jacobs quote - “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”