Muskoka Lakes lose summer farmers markets to COVID-19

·3 min read

Farmers’ markets are a staple of Muskoka summers, but for some communities, the 2020 season has been cancelled.

“Like everybody in any business, it’s difficult,” said Nancy MacMillan, market manager for the Bala and Port Carling farmers’ markets.

A confluence of factors contributed to the decision not to run the markets, which normally run weekly in Jaspen and Hanna parks, this year, MacMillan said.

Evolving restrictions from the provincial government regarding large gatherings, the closure of municipal parks (at the time of the decision) and the fact that many of the markets’ vendors are not food-primary, led to the cancellation, she explained.

“It’s not just our vendors because each of our markets have musicians too, so those are (lost) opportunities,” MacMillan said. “It’s been hard all around for everyone.”

The market team is keeping watch on the evolving COVID-19 situation and is committed to coming back when safety can be ensured, said MacMillan, which is likely not until 2021.

For vendors, the cancellations are “definitely having an impact on their financial situation,” she noted. To that end, the market is working on digitizing its vendors, offering information on its websites and social platforms.

In April, the provincial government deemed farmers’ markets an essential service. In early June, protocol dictated markets were permitted to operate with a variety of vendors as long as the majority of them were selling food, according to Farmers' Markets Ontario.

For Teresa Upper, whose handmade jewelry stall is a regular fixture at the Bala Farmers Market, those designations were too late.

What began as a hobby for the Huntsville resident has grown significantly since she began selling in local markets last year.

“It was very disappointing not to be able to be a vendor at any of the markets for 2020,” she said in an email. “It will definitely hurt financially and also socially since I’m fairly new to the market world.”

This summer would have marked the 19th anniversary of the Baysville Farmers’ Market, but those celebrations will have to wait.

Cathy Vanclieaf, co-ordinator of the Baysville Community Group, said the decision not to operate this year was made at the end of April and despite guidelines changing since then, Vanclieaf said the market’s lack of staff left it unable to operate responsibly.

Many of the market’s organizers are seniors who were hesitant to volunteer in an environment where their health and safety could be compromised.

In Baysville, where shopping is limited, Vanclieaf has noticed the general store stocking up on items they wouldn’t regularly carry, notably more fruits and vegetables.

“We’ll see over the summer, without the market, if they continue that trend,” she said.

Because some of the Baysville vendors participate in other Muskoka farmers markets, Vanclieaf is comforted by the fact that they can engage with customers elsewhere.

“It’s definitely a different year, but it’s been that way for everyone and everything,” she said. “We just have to recognize that’s the way 2020 is going to be.”

Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government.

Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com