Nelson’s downtown markets are going ahead despite COVID-19 this year, but shoppers will notice many changes.
“The farmers are really open to all these changes,” says Craig Mullin, markets director the West Kootenay EcoSociety, which runs the downtown and Cottonwood markets.
“They rely on these markets, and this could be a busier-than-normal year for them. We think a stronger emphasis on local food security could bring even more people out.”
The changes include:
• booths placed a booth-width apart
• entrance and exit points to regulate flow and limit the number of people to 50 including vendors
• hand cleaning stations
• two-metre markers on the ground
• plastic shields for vendors
• food sales only including food trucks and prepared food
• shorter hours but perhaps open Wednesdays and Saturdays
• all food must be bagged by a vendor behind glass
• no eating on the market site
• no Cottonwood Market because these new measures would be harder to organize and monitor
• possibly online shopping and delivery
• depending on the number of vendors, perhaps booths on Baker Street only, not Hall Street.
Several farmers’ markets in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island are already open and using these guidelines, according to the executive director of the 145-member B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets.
“It is challenging,” says Heather O’Hara, “because markets are generally understaffed and have a lot on their plate in normal times. But they are modifying day to day. I really take my hat off to them.”
She says they are changing their processes like any other essential service, and customers are responding well.
“Customers are speaking with their actions. Market vendors are busy. They are packed. People recognize the need for local food.”
In February, Nelson city council decided the downtown market could remain in the same spot as last year (600 block Baker plus 400 and 500 blocks Hall). Mullin says the EcoSociety canvassed the businesses on those streets before most of them closed due to the pandemic and found more businesses in support of the market than the previous year.
The EcoSociety has cancelled GardenFest and both Marketfests. This, along with a lower number of vendors in the downtown markets, will mean a drastically lower income for the organization from vendor fees.
Mullin said the EcoSociety hasn’t yet decided whether to set up an online shopping component for the market. The provincial government recently gave $55,000 to the BCAFM to help facilitate this.
O’Hara says although so far there haven’t been disruptions to grocery supply chains in B.C., the pandemic is a wake-up call.
“It reminds us all how important is to have and sustain these local food systems in the event we had a food supply challenge in the future. In good times and bad, these farmers and vendors need to exist in the long term. They need a reason to grow.”
Nelson’s downtown markets are expected to open in early June.
CORRECTION: This story was altered on May 5, 2020, to delete the inaccurate statement that most businesses on the 600 Baker Street would not be open during the summer because of the pandemic.