While it’s very evident that Vancouver is nowhere near a point in its torrid relationship with Covid-19 where social distancing measures can be relaxed, it is nevertheless comforting to know that our Spring and Summer won’t be completely for naught. There is some good news: our farmers markets will return next weekend, albeit with major changes.
Vancouver Farmers Markets (VFM) – the non-profit organization that runs eight weekly markets throughout the city – will launch its 25th season on May 2nd as an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
VFM organizers can confirm that, at this time, all six of its summer locations will open on schedule over the next several weeks. The season begins at Trout Lake – VFM’s longest running market – on Saturday, May 2nd.
Shoppers should take note that the markets will look very different to the community gatherings they were previous to COVID-19. In accordance with BC Public Health Officer Bonnie Henry’s orders, VFM will be food-only for the time being, with no craft, flowers, or non-food nursery items available for purchase; full physical distancing and safety measures will be in place, including limiting shopper capacity inside the markets. There will be no live music or eating on site, and shoppers will be asked to follow the “Shop, don’t stop” protocol in effect at grocery stores and other businesses.
“We had originally planned a series of special events for our 25th anniversary,” says VFM’s interim executive director Laura Smit, who has been with the organization since 2011. “Now the focus is on providing an essential service to the community and helping our farms stay in business.”
Keeping farmers afloat – and providing the public with the fresh, healthy food it needs during the pandemic – is top of mind for Smit and her team this summer. As restaurants and other food-related businesses remain closed, farmers markets have become the only source of revenue for many growers and small scale food producers.
“The markets are essential right now,” says Chris Billion, a farmer from Lillooet, BC who sells at the Riley Park and Main St. Station markets. “They make up the majority of my annual sales. Without them, I don’t have a business.”
Recent shopper attendance at VFM’s Riley Park winter market attests to the fact that farmers markets are essential to eaters too. Smit, who’s been onsite at the market over the last few weeks, has been heartened by the support of the community.
“We know Vancouverites love their farmers markets, but I’ve been impressed with the numbers coming out during the pandemic,” she says. “Some folks have told me that the markets are the only place they shop. That’s inspiring us to keep going right now.”
Along with the weekly markets, shoppers can access food from VFM vendors through its new online platform, VFM Online Orders. While VFM is working on implementing centralized pick-up and delivery in the coming weeks, a variety of these options are available through individual vendors on the platform.
“There’s no shortage of local food right now, so we need people to come and shop,” says Smit. “But we ask that people send only one member per household and keep interactions to a minimum while at the markets. We hope to get back to being a place for community connection soon, but for now, it’s all about the food.”