farmers markets toronto

Toronto forces farmers' markets to move outdoors and people are upset

Shopping inside a Toronto Walmart for produce grown in California is fine by the provincial government, under grey zone lockdown orders, but picking up fresh Ontario apples from a local farmers' market? You'd better bundle up.

Like independent retail stores and the many restaurant owners who just spent tens of thousands of dollars winterizing their patios only to be ordered closed, vendors at year-round farmers' markets are upset and confused by what seems like an unfair set of rules for operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, just hours after announcing the relaunch of a curbside pick-up program meant to help small businesses, the City of Toronto issued a "weekend update on modified services to adhere to provincial lockdown measures."

"On Monday, Toronto moved into the Grey – Lockdown category of the Province of Ontario's COVID-19 response framework in an effort to reduce and eliminate the transmission of COVID-19, protect the healthcare system and save lives," it read.

"This will be the first weekend with the new protections in place that impact a number of City services and facilities," continued the release, which outlined the new rules for libraries, parks, recreation and community centres, outdoor skating rinks, museums, long-term care homes, the zoo and St. Lawrence Market.

While the city-owned market itself remains open for indoor shopping as an essential service, the popular weekly farmers' market it hosts has been given the boot.

Same goes for the Evergreen Brick Works Farmers' Market, The Wychwood Barns Farmers Market, and any other market that uses an indoor space to host venders during the colder months.

"Due to Provincial restrictions in the Grey – Lockdown category of the Province's COVID-19 response framework related to markets the Saturday Farmers Market will not be able to operate inside the Temporary Market at 125 The Esplanade until further notice," wrote the city in its release.

"The Farmers Market will operate outside on Market Street between The Esplanade and Wilton Street. A limited number of Farmers Market vendors will be in attendance on Saturday, November 28."

Vendors, who were informed of the change Thursday morning, were forced to scramble to equip their stalls for the cold, fingers crossed that shoppers would still come by despite the weather.

"The farmers' market at Market and Esplanade was forced outside the big tent this morning," said one loyal patron to blogTO after visiting on Saturday. "Many of the vendors could not come in this morning due to the lack of proper facilities, and a much smaller area in the street."

"This is ridiculous. How can shopping inside the market be any different than going to a Loblaws?" wrote another on Instagram.

"I want to buy from my local farmer. I hope there is a change to this policy that is unfairly targeting the people we need so much."

Spirits were high among organizers of the Wychwood Barns Farmers Market, but they too expressed disappointment over how the provincial government is treating farmers and other local vendors.

"A lovely sunny day for our first outdoor winter market, and we needed it. A heartfelt thanks to the farmers and vendors who are pandemic adjusting magnificently, in tough, unfair circumstances,
wrote organizers of the weekly market at Artscape Wychwood Barns.

"And to the loyal market goers who supported them today, another big thanks. I believe we’re all in agreement that farmers markets are essential and hope that soon we'll be on an equal footing with the grocery and big box stores allowed to safely operate indoors during this COVID lockdown."

A petition expressing similar sentiments, called "St​.​Lawrence Market Saturday Farmers Market Should Be Considered Essential Groceries," has garnered roughly 670 signatures in just two days.

"Farmers markets are not allowed to be open indoors in grey zones such as Toronto. However, this market essentially operates as a grocery store for thousands of Toronto residents," it reads.

"For over 15 years we have purchased our groceries every Saturday at the St. Lawrence farmers market. We purchase eggs, meats, coffee, produce and other essential items for our weekly groceries."

"How are vendors going to be able to sell fresh meats and eggs outside in the winter? The food needs to be refrigerated and selling their products outside is unacceptable," continiues the petition, addressed to the provincial grovernment.

"You are robbing hard working businesses from making an income and taking away our primary source of groceries. The legislation is clearly flawed as it relates to essential grocery services."

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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