City staff recently cited increased local food production as one of their suggestions to Council for the new Official Plan.
In reaction to that, I recently submitted a proposal to two General Managers at the City as well as 14 Councillors. I was proposing the proliferation of small, local farmers’ markets across Ottawa in City run parks. The Councillors were a mix of urban, rural and a couple of suburban.
I was asking the City to give basic support to small, privately run farmers markets; to allow the use of City park amenities (play structures, green space), the onsite hydro and washrooms, afford minimal storage and maintain the park. In exchange, we would pay a small fee, set up 10-15 local vendor stalls, (quiet) live music and a community table for local interest groups.
The Beechwood Market, of which I am the Manager, has proven that this model works. Put up a farmers’ market in a City park with live music, breakfast, ample parking, kids area, tree cover, grass and 300 people will show up every weekend.
In its sixth season, the Beechwood Market is a shiny, happy place. The benefits are many and could easily be replicated.
The community has a gathering spot of which they can be proud; a reliable place to see their neighbours, discover their community and understand their environs. A weekly market gives residents a chance to connect, exchange notes and share ideas.
Residents also have a chance to engage with local business owners. A farmers’ market gives small scale entrepreneurs a chance to showcase their products. Through the support of farmers’ markets, some of these businesses will move on to open a store front, catering business or online shop.
In addition to these onsite operations, nearby businesses also thrive due to the influx of added shoppers. In the case of the Beechwood Market, our local butcher, cheese shop and pubs see a spike in traffic on Saturdays.
Those visiting their market will be exposed to locally produced food. A seasonal proposal, everything on site would be from within 100km of the market itself. The nutritional value of produce picked the same day is greater than much of the produce found elsewhere and the security much more traceable.
We can extend the economic development piece to talk about the effects local markets have in rural Ottawa. Many family owned farms cannot afford wholesale deals with large retailers. Farmers’ markets are their number one direct to consumer point of sale and present the largest margins. These farms employ dozens of people, both temporary and full time. These farm workers shop in their local towns and nearby suburbs. Local towns within the Ottawa area are benefiting from urban markets.
The environmental impacts are also worth noting. With a market around the corner, the average family is less likely to drive to a larger market. This not only reduces emissions, but gets everyone out walking and leading a healthier lifestyle. In addition, the vehicles coming in from a family farm are travelling a fraction of the distance than the large trucks, trains, boats from Montreal, California, Chile.
Ottawa is in the perpetual hunt for the ‘Main Street’. Main streets of yore often featured a farmers’ market. Their return would bring bustle back to our neighbourhoods, create a sense of community and bolster our local economy.