In the winter of 2021, shortly after the City’s new Official Plan was released, Walkable Ottawa offered to do a Walkability Study in Ward 18, Alta Vista. Residents had the opportunity to envision how the neighbourhood would have to adapt if all of us were to live within a fifteen-minute walk of daily needs, in other words, a Fifteen-Minute Community. In order to make the exercise challenging, Walkable Ottawa chose a study area, a part of Alta Vista that really was out of range of a fifteen-minute walk from any retail.
In an increasingly turbulent world, outdoor markets are little pockets of hope and promise for the future.
Walkable Ottawa in the community booth at the Alta Vista Farmers Market
One idea that emerged from the study was to start with a seasonal outdoor market, which might serve as an incubator for more ideas on how to increase the presence of small-scale locally-owned stores and services in the area. By the fall of 2021, the Alta Vista Community Association (AVCA) had connected with Ottawa Street Markets, a locally owned network that proposes an online market of goods from an array of over forty Ottawa vendors. St Thomas the Apostle Church on Alta Vista Drive agreed to serve as drop-off point for the weekly OSM deliveries. The delivery of online market orders began in Alta Vista in October of 2021.
In the spring of 2022, Ottawa Street Markets decided to open a sixteen-week Saturday in-person market at St Thomas, to run from late June to Thanksgiving. On opening day last June, many people commented that it was the first large in-person event that they’d been to, in two years.
a neighbourhood market can be so much more than just an exchange of locally produced food. It’s also a place to forge the cultural, artistic and interpersonal links that make a place truly home.
Over the summer season, the Alta Vista Market averaged about fifteen vendors per week, plus an info kiosk for the Community Association, and an info kiosk for a non-profit partner of our choice. The Community Association sponsored a free yoga class from 8:15 to 9 each morning, which brought in an early cohort of shoppers. We had ready-to-eat food and drinks, live music, and a seating area. The ambiance was amazing!
Starting the day with yoga under the trees
We had a constant flow of people past the Community Association Booth, talking about how great it was to have farm-fresh food in our neighbourhood, to be able to come on foot, to be able to shop as a family with room to stretch and run around, and not worry about either Covid or cars.
The market was a venue for us urbanites to get to know our farm producers, and for the farm producers to have a sociable Saturday morning in town. Ottawa Street Markets operate at other locations across the city, so far mostly downtown. At this time last year, no one was sure whether a quiet suburb like Alta Vista would have the customer base to support an in-person market.
The busy parking lot at the Alta Vista market
However as the season developed and the word spread, Alta Vistans showed their enthusiasm and commitment by showing up every week and expressing their appreciation for having our very own market.
We often hear that the best way to support Ontario farmers and farmland is to “eat local”. However, a neighbourhood market can be so much more than just an exchange of locally produced food. It’s also a place to forge the cultural, artistic and interpersonal links that make a place truly home.
As we prepare to welcome more population to Ottawa, we need more Farmers Markets. In an increasingly turbulent world, outdoor markets are little pockets of hope and promise for the future.
~ Janet Mark Wallace, Walkable Ottawa