The importance of farmers' markets as food distributors

Like many other farmers markets in Ottawa, the Beechwood Market is a gathering place, community event and regular stop on the weekend. It is also a food distributor. The less sexy category for farmers’ markets, they all have something in common with Loblaws, take out joints and those five ton food supply trucks you see all over town. Obviously with a different appearance and appeal, at the end of the day, farmers’ markets are in the business of getting local food to consumers.


The biggest difference in getting your local produce from a farmers’ market is the direct and measurable effects on you, the environment and the local economy.


Every minute a vegetable is separated from its comfortable home in the ground, it loses nutritional value. The fruits and vegetables at your local market are picked that morning or the day before. The nutritional value is simply higher, making local produce a healthier choice for your family.


Comparatively speaking, farmers’ market vendors travel a short distance to showcase their wares. Whether it’s a fruit farmer, bread baker or prepared meal chef, farmers’ market vendors are driving their goods in from a nearby location. This shorter distance translates into fewer emissions, shaves a few kilometres off their vehicle maintenance schedule and affords the vendors time to plan their next steps.


That local produce is also more secure. Whether it is organically or conventionally grown, you can rest assured that that tomato has been grown to Ontario standards, there have been minimal hands placed on it and that it has been stored safely. If you like, you can even visit the very spot it was grown and speak with those who grew it.


The pandemic has emphasized the importance of …, we’ll call it, shopping security. Those farmers’ markets that have innovated have created the safest points of purchase you’ll find in the City. Being able to food shop outside, order your weekly groceries online, pick up safely and/or get home delivery, now is the safest time to shop we’ll ever know. Forget about Covid, I challenge you to get the common cold in these conditions!


There are 440 farms inside the City of Ottawa. Granted many of those operations are export grain growers or produce animal feed; there are also a fair few horticultural operations. Two examples at the Beechwood Market are Ottawa Farm Fresh and Foster Family Farm. Both located in rural Ottawa, they grow organic and conventional vegetables, respectively.


Buying their produce sends reverberations through rural and suburban economies. Employing dozens of seasonal staff, the dollars that you spend on Foster’s broccoli will likely find its way to the family owned hardware store in North Gower. Purchasing Ottawa Farm Fresh’s spinach helps pay their part-time graphic designer in Ottawa South.


These economic dots are also easily connected when speaking of small scale bakeries, kombucha brewers or coffee roasters . Many print promo materials locally, source food packaging from an Ottawa supplier or rent commercial kitchen space from a local restaurant. Good examples of local supply chains, we should be working towards all supply tiers originating from Ottawa…ok, Ontario.


The local ‘circular’ food economy has never been better positioned than during the pandemic to prove that it can indeed move towards self-sufficiency. With so many years of import under our belt, we’ve grown blind to our own region’s potential in food production.


Farmers’ markets are relatable, dependable and have gained the trust of the masses. The pandemic has put them on the front line of connecting consumers to the possibility of a local food strategy.  Your support of local food distributors like farmers’ markets will strengthen and expedite this conversation.