After spending the summer and part of the fall as a volunteer at the local St. Andrew’s farmer’s market, I thought that I’d seen the last of that great group of people – the farmers, the Farmers’ Market Ontario team and the other volunteers – until next year, but I didn’t count on the year-end review, celebration and luncheon hosted by FMO to bring us all together one last time in 2009. The purpose of the day is to review the progress of each of the markets this year, and bring together some ideas of what worked and didn’t work at the markets. Oh yeah, and we got to start the day with Angela Russo’s fresh-baked fruit muffins!
I especially like that they had assigned seats that mixed up the market volunteers, farmers and others so that we didn’t just clump together in our cliques: I was seated with two farmers and a volunteer from another market, none of whom I had met previously, and had great discussions with them.
There are five MyMarkets, each of which is certified by FMO to include only vendors who grow their own produce: East Lynn Park, Sick Kids Hospital, Bloor • Borden, Liberty Village, and Historic St. Andrew’s. The volunteers and/or market manager for each market gave a short presentation:
- East Lynn Park, taking place on Thursdays from 3-7pm: they’re a big-ish market with 15 vendors, drawing 18,000 shoppers over the entire season, which is roughly the same as last year. They were impacted by the city workers’ strike since some people were under the impression that the market was cancelled during that time; the lack of city-run facilities such as the wading pool meant that less people came out to the park and ended up as accidental shoppers. Since they block off the street during the market, they have issues with moving and setting up barricades; since they’re in a lower-density residential area, they also have more issues with parking for shoppers. They had some good ideas for next years, such as improving the MyMarket website to link to the individual market websites and other social media sites (I’m obviously in big agreement with that); since they don’t have any local restaurants giving cooking demos such as happens at other markets, they’d like to get that started as well. They also see the need for prepared food at the market to make it more of a destination for people. They have great community support, and involve local children’s groups and artists as well as providing community service opportunities for youths to do setup and teardown at the market each week. They also had a partnership with a local food bank, where food that would have probably been thrown out by the farmers at the end of the day went to the food bank. They had a number of green initiatives, such as Not Far From The Tree, handing out information. They also had a lot of child and family-oriented events such as face painting; obviously, this doesn’t work in all locations (such as ours) where the demographics are radically different, but lots of good ideas at work here.
- Sick Kids Hospital, taking place on Tuesdays 9am-2pm: this was the first hospital in Canada that allowed a farmers’ market to be held on its grounds, driven by their director of nutrition and food services. They just finished their second year; in 2008, they had 10,300 customers over the season, increasing to 12,000 in 2009. They obviously had a lot of traffic from the hospital staff, not just of Sick Kids but of the two other hospitals and many other businesses along University Avenue in the same area. They obviously have some different logistics issues than the rest of the markets, and have to be very cognizant of the fact that they’re set up in front of a very busy, fully functioning hospital, situated on a busy thoroughfare. They have a difficult time hosting events because of the location and the low numbers of volunteers.
- Bloor • Borden, taking place on Wednesdays 3-7pm. They see this a key community event that takes place in their neighbourhood, where the locals can come out and see their neighbours participating as volunteers, driven by three fairly active neighbourhood associations and supported by two of the local business associations. Just finished their second year, they had spent a lot of money in their first year on print, but found that word of mouth was most effective, as well as the cards that were mailed to homes or placed in local businesses. They combined this with on-the-street volunteers handing out fruit samples and the market cards to remind people that the market is back at the beginning of the season. They had a great idea for their weekly draws: “market bucks”, where the winner of the draw received four $5 vouchers to be spent at any vendor in the market. They also reorganized their layout to have a central social area with a coffee/tea stand run by a not-for-profit organization. They had several product feature days, some of them combined with cooking demos by local chefs, but some as simple as corn roasts or apples and honey. They had 12-13,000 customers throughout the 2009 season.They also took the food leftovers to a local charity, an idea that we should all be thinking about.
- Liberty Village, taking place on Sundays 9am-2pm. In its 3rd year, this is the probably the largest of the markets with 18 vendors including meat and cheese, as well as several local businesses and restaurants who did demonstrations or otherwise participated, although their attendance is lower than some others at about 9.500 for the year. However, they have less neighbourhood involvement since the residential area in Liberty Village is still growing and likely a very young (and single) demographic that are unlikely to be involved in volunteer activities. The area, however, is growing rapidly which is likely to ensure continued success for the market.
- Historic St. Andrew’s (that’s us!), taking place on Saturdays 9am-1pm. Colin Mooers, who was instrumental in getting the market starting and current heads up our volunteer committee, gave a presentation with me about our market:
To wrap up the morning, we had a session on what worked and didn’t work at the markets this year. Here’s some of the ideas that came up from everyone:
|What worked||Areas for improvement|
|Live music||Direct contact with local chefs to get them shopping at the market|
|Volunteers chatting with the shoppers to create a sense of community||Hire local students to assist farmers and organizers at market|
|“Market bucks” as weekly draw prize and available for purchase by local businesses (e.g., real estate agents) to give to patrons||Weekly updates from the farmers of what’s coming to this week’s market for pre-market distribution|
|Sandwich boards on market day to draw in pedestrian traffic||Program to allow local businesses to buy produce from farmers for direct donation to food banks|
|Cooking demos by local chefs||Reduce carbon footprint through farmers collaborating on distribution to markets|
|Encouraging viral distribution of market information via email||Music levels too loud for farmers to have discussions with patrons|
|Uniform MyMarket branding||Competitive price point|
|Mini markets at places such as Queens Park||Greater variety, including cheese, meat, eggs, mushrooms and flowers, to allow for one-stop shopping|
|Great support from FMO and MyMarket organization||Promote understanding of why prices are higher for quality of produce|
|Profile a farmer each week tied in with weekly product features||Too many vendors selling the same product|
|“Official” start times restricting vendors from selling to early customers|
|Educate shoppers on preserving fresh food (e.g., freezing) for later consumption|
We stayed for a delicious lunch, including Angela Russo’s incomparable apple pie, but skipped out on the afternoon session on “innovative marketing made easy” featuring Lori Colborne.
All in all, a great day that generated a lot of great ideas.