Farmers’ Market constantly evolving
It wasn’t a sure thing in the beginning, but the Creemore Farmers’ Market was able to open this summer, following guidelines from public health officials and Farmers’ Markets Ontario.
The pandemic put a new focus on food and food distribution. It also forced market officials to put in place many new policies and procedures for a safe opening.
“We felt, in Creemore, we would be able to do that so we went ahead and planned our market,” said market manager Helen Martin.
Barriers, masks, and hand sanitizer were there to help people feel safe while shopping but there was no prepared food, and no coffee booth so that people are not encouraged to linger.
She said the market is now designed to give people that face-to-face encounter with the food producers, which is an essential part of the farmers’ market experience, while maintaining a safe traffic flow.
“We’re trying to follow that [public health] guideline as much as we can and still give people the experience of having a farmers’ market,” said Martin. “So, we’re constantly evolving.”
The market outgrew the old barriers, so longer ones will be installed. Again, all of this is to meet public health recommendations.
At the beginning, the market was open to farmers only but it has gradually been opening up to welcome back some of the other vendors. Martin said they are just now in the process of bringing back some of the artisans.
“We’re trying to make the experience as normal as possible for people without it being a social gathering,” said Martin.
She said initially, they were going to do online sales only, with pick-up at the market, by the time they actually opened at the end of June, the economy had opened up a little, making in-person sales possible.
OMAFRA was offering grants to help farmers transition to online sales. Farmers’ Markets Ontario arranged for free online sales through the platform, Open Food Network but that didn’t work for everyone.
Some vendors had to find their own solution to sell their own specific products.
For some farmers, the foray into e-commerce opened a whole other sales avenue and has been profitable.
Mike Miller at 4M Farms in Feversham was one of the farmers who had to find an online sales platform that worked for his business.
“From the start of this, it’s been painful,” said Miller, admitting he is not very computer literate, and neither is his wife. “And it has taken up a pile of time just to get everything up and going on an online store.”
Miller said the pandemic forced them to delve into e-commerce, something they never intended to do, and it forced the customer to embrace it.
He said an unbelievable amount of work went into setting it up but it has been very tricky to get customers using it.
“In my industry, people always want to see what they are buying. People don’t want to buy meat blindly, so to speak,” said Miller.
He said, the main challenge was showing the quality of the product, and because no two cuts of meat are alike, everything is priced differently so it is an unbelievable amount of information to put on one webpage.
Miller was able to find an e-commerce platform that worked for him and was able to link it to the Creemore Farmers’ Market website, and use it for other sales. Where it was not possible to link his existing page, Miller said he has had to create other inventory lists, adding to the unforeseen workload.
In Creemore, 25-30 per cent of his sales are online pre-orders.
Miller said the market vibe is really different, with no live music, fewer people in attendance, and a barrier down the middle, people feel rushed.
“The atmosphere’s changed, it’s definitely different. I’d say our sales are down from last year but not a lot,” said Miller, adding that he’s picked up sales elsewhere from people who don’t want to go to the market at this time, to avoid being in populated place.
Although online orders were strongly encouraged in the early days of the market, in-person shopping is now fully welcome. For more information, visit creemorefarmersmarket.ca.
The Creemore Farmers’ Market continues until Thanksgiving weekend. Due to construction at the Village Green, the market is located in the parking lot at Creemore Springs Brewery, located at 139 Mill St. Please note, shoppers are required to have face coverings in their possession, and to wear them when it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of two metres.