Last Thursday, Waterloo Public Square hosted something that the city has not had in decades: a farmers’ market.
Some form of farmers’ market exists in most urban centres, but one has not been a fixture of Waterloo’s core in approximately 40 years despite the city’s close proximity to agricultural communities.
Thursday’s was the first in a series of farmer’s markets to be held in Uptown this fall. It is scheduled to run every Thursday throughout the month of October from 4 to 8 p.m.
The program will also be relaunched in the spring with anticipation of more participation from community vendors.
Thursday’s market offerings included medicinal herbs, perennials, frozen meat, pumpkins, gourds, a variety of produce and entertainment by Mr. Green, an artist who performs music and spoken word, featured on CKMS Radio Waterloo.
Melissa Baer, a representative from Vibrant Farms which provides organic beef and chicken, was optimistic about the opportunity to participate in the market.
She stated that the market helps achieve the awareness that is crucial for her business at a very affordable cost. “I got to talk to a lot of people,” Baer explained, “And gain community exposure.”
The bylaw that allows the operation of a free market in the public square was passed on Sept. 29, only two days prior to the first market. Advertising was limited with such a brief timeframe, but market co-ordinator Jay Carnahan was pleased with the turnout nonetheless.
Carnahan expects market traffic to increase in the coming weeks.
“It’s Waterloo and word of mouth spreads really quickly,” he said.
“Especially if it has something to do with keeping [up] Waterloo’s economy.”
It was Carnahan’s initiative as a local produce grower that spurred the creation of the farmer’s market.
He approached the city inquiring if he could sell his tomatoes in the public square and city officials felt that with the participation of other vendors, the concept had potential.
Carnahan has been in the certified organic industry for 14 years and was able to use his connections within that community to recruit other vendors.
He also borrowed from Victoria, British Columbia’s Moss Street Market policies, which state that vendors cannot buy and resell products; they themselves must be the farmer, producer or craftsperson.
Carnahan states that these regulations prevent markets from becoming something like St. Jacob’s, where many goods are not sold by the original producer.
“A lot of the food [at St. Jacob’s Market] comes from the food terminal,” noted Carnahan. “It undermines the farmers being able to sell something at a fair and reasonable price.”
He explains that the food terminal often sells products at a lower price than it should be for farmers who grow food locally, and farmers might not even plant that crop if they know that they cannot compete with the declining prices.
According to Carnahan, the market also parallels the recent emphasis on movement away from the carbon economy, recognizing that reliance on oil is unsustainable.
“Food shouldn’t travel so far,” said Carnahan.
“Helping the farmers’ market, we help local people sell their food here instead of the food coming from China.”
The market is open to new vendors. Booths are $15 and the only stipulation is that vendors are not reselling goods. “As long as you are growing it or producing it, you can come,” said Carnahan.