A framework for farmers' markets in Ottawa

One of the many signs of Fall is the end of harvest and the closure of local farmers’ markets. The outdoor Beechwood and Elgin Street Markets glide along with that schedule. The final day to chat with your favourite vendors, listen to live music and mingle with neighbours was October 9th & 10th.


Luckily, both Markets have life beyond their ‘normal’ outdoor set up. On October 16th, you’ll find our online pick up operation living at the Stanley Park Field House, 203 Stanley Ave and Haus of Plants, 239A Elgin St. Only a pick up point, there will be nothing for sale onsite. Everything must be ordered online at www.beechwoodmarket.ca and www.elginstreetmarket.ca

Next year, both outdoor Markets should return to their outdoor homes….maybe.


For years, I have struggled to work with the City of Ottawa on coming to a mutually beneficial arrangement around the use of Optimiste Park for the Beechwood Market.  

In a nutshell, farmers’ markets are seen in the eyes of the City as a one off event; much like Bluesfest, Run Weekend or the Tulip Festival. As such, we are charged in the same way, must reapply every year and pay extra for additional services.


Although the differences between farmers’ markets and music festivals are many – fewer attendees, smaller revenues, event goals - the biggest one is the fact that farmers’ markets repeat themselves 20 times in one calendar year. At the current rate of use, this makes for a hefty bill. It borders on prohibitive for small operations like Beechwood and Elgin Street.


I have been working with various groups to create a framework for farmers markets. The framework is to address the fact that farmers’ markets are unique operators. As economic incubators, community hubs and stewards of environmental sustainability, they should stand in their own category.


The framework could be adopted by Council or accomplished through some funky bylaw avenues. I’d love to grab an example from a neighbouring Ontario City to help me along, but one does not exist in the Province. In fact, farmers’ markets are recognized as unique operators in only one Province. You guessed it, B.C.


The potential framework would make the cost of operating on City properties more affordable, thin out the red tape and increase available amenities. Essentially, lubricate the proliferation of community markets. It would allow small, local markets to pop up in appropriate venues already designed for public use.


The City would benefit from the use of their public properties, stronger local economies and a more active population. The framework would also get the City closer to its elusive plan for 15 minute neighbourhoods.


The reasons to introduce more community farmers’ markets are clear - environment, health, economy, pride. The process does not share this clarity. A framework for farmers’ markets would wipe away much of the murkiness and help the City create sensible and stable standards for these crucial community building blocks.