The Little Market That Can

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2009 was the first year of the Historic St. Andrew’s MyMarket, and we’re hoping that it wasn’t the last: a meeting tomorrow could decide our fate.

A bit of history: the Historic St. Andrew’s MyMarket is one of five verified (that is, the vendors are verified to sell only their own produce) farmers’ markets in the urban Toronto area. I’m on the local volunteer committee for the market, and worked on much of the social media side of promoting the market. The farmers, Farmers’ Market Ontario (the organizers) and volunteers from all of the markets met in December to review the season; check out my post about that meeting (including the presentation that we gave, below) for more details.

The highlights of our first year:

  • Opened on June 6th, ran every Saturday until October 24th
  • More than 25 volunteers actively involved in organizing events, promoting the market, and helping with market-day logistics
  • 11 vendors, although not all were there every week, depending on the growing season of what they were selling
  • Almost 5,800 visitors over the season
  • 8 cooking demos with local restaurants
  • Banners, postcards, sandwich boards, email, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogging and even an Ignite presentation for promotion

We were the smallest of the five MyMarkets, as could be expected in our first year: the more established markets in a family residential neighbourhood have as many as three times our visitors, although we came in at more than 60% of what the trendy Liberty Village MyMarket drew, even though it had 18 vendors including meat and cheese (sorely lacking from, and missed at, St. Andrew’s).

Tomorrow, we have a meeting with FMO and the farmers to talk about this year’s market; I’m headed out to Brampton with one of the other volunteers to talk to them about St. Andrew’s. Going to a market is a big committment for the farmers: they have to pay FMO ($500, I believe) for the season for each market that they attend, which covers the booth space and marketing costs; plus, they have to get themselves and their produce to market every week at the assigned time, rain or shine, and stick around even if a lot of people don’t show up. It’s a tough job, especially when you consider that they’re spending the rest of their time actually producing what they sell. This should be obvious, but if they don’t sell enough at a market, it’s just not good business for them.

We’re all hyped for the meeting, then received an email from FMO two days ago that said “Realize it sounds ominous…not much interest from farmers…it will be an uphill climb.” Eeeek! This is the first that we heard that there might not be enough interest from the farmers in order to have a market this year: we’d been focusing on ensuring that we could get access to the city-owned parking lot where we hold the market, lining up chefs for cooking demos to try and hold one every week, and working at increasing our volunteer base to a solid 30 people. We were a bit taken aback to think that the farmers might not want to come back.

Not much that we can do now except to show up, lay out our strengths in terms of volunteers, what we learned last year and how we plan to start earlier and ramp up faster this year. Stay tuned for more details after tomorrow’s meeting.

4 Comments

  1. Matt James I says:

    I love St.Andrew’s Market! Its such a treat to wake up early on the weekend and take a short stroll over to the market to pick up some goodies. I hope there is enough intrest from the farmers to make it happen again this year.

  2. Alexandra says:

    I hope the farmers decide to come back this year!! I don’t live in the area but I go to Kensington Market every saturday and always wanted to add a farmers’ market to my shopping routine. So St Andrews was very convenient for its closeness to Kensington. I loved shopping there last year and was counting the days to the beginning of the new season.

  3. Diane says:

    I know this is years late, but i remember buying groceries at this market in 2009 and loved it! Only downside was that i didnt really know the name of the market or if it was coming back….which unfortunately it did not. I only discovered it again looking for farmers markets in the area on google.
    I really hope this wonderful market returns and with all the condos popping up on adelaide and king st. Im sure there will be enough interest now!!
    Let’s revive this market for 2013!!!

  4. Hi Diane, I still miss the market, too! Everything was so fresh, and it was great to be able to talk to the people who grew the food. I think that part of the problem in 2009 was the weather — the wettest summer that we’d had for a while, which kept people away — and part was the demographics of the neighbourhood, which may have had fewer people who are cooking at home most of the time. With all of the new condos, it may be a different story now, although there’s a lot of effort to get something going and most of us were unpaid volunteers.

    The public works building on the north side of the park (along Richmond between Brant and Maud) will be undergoing redevelopment over the next couple of years, and we hope that a market will be part of the plans, something like Wychwood Barns. No set plans for it yet, but if you’re interested, get on Adam Vaughan’s mailing list and come out to the public meetings to express your opinions.

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