Another COVID-19 casualty: Popular St. Thomas farmers' market will not open this season
ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- Farmers' market customers in St. Thomas will have to take their fresh carrots and onions somewhere else this year.
Vendors at the seasonal Horton Farmers' Market on Manitoba Street are expressing disappointment after St. Thomas council this week voted against opening the market for the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Vendor Janis Harris, whose family farm sells fresh flowers and pastured pork at the market, admits she’s disappointed, but is taking the news in stride.
''It’s funny that at this time we normally have the uncertainty with weather but that’s like our easiest one to navigate right now."
Harris Fresh Flowers and Pastured Pork is one of about 50 vendors who will lose out on annual revenues from taking part in the Horton Farmers’ Market every Saturday from spring through fall.
"All of the food vendors and the farmers that have been growing food for months and getting vegetables ready to have their time to shine, to support our community and feed our community, and now they’re not going to be able to," Harris said.
The council vote to keep the market closed this season came in at five to four.
Vendor Serge Lavoie, who also serves as president of On Track St. Thomas, said the decision came despite an all clear from Southwestern Public Health, and a plan mapped out for social distancing.
"The stalls would be separated, people would all be walking in one direction, and access to the building would be limited to a certain number of people," he said. "So there are really stringent rules proposed to be put in place that would have made this very very safe."
City Councillor Lori Baldwin-Sands, who chairs the market board, said the disruption to the 142-year-old seasonal market will be tough for everyone involved.
"To have that disruption happen, to [not] be able to provide that fresh food local service for the citizens of the City of St. Thomas, provided by our local farmers, within a short radius of the City of St. Thomas, it’s going to be devastating."
Farmers’ markets are considered essential services under the current COVID-19 restrictions, therefore under the provincial guidelines it would have already been allowed to open.
Normally the market opens for the season on Mother's Day weekend.
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, who voted against the opening, said even with the modified layout the risk would have been too great.
"The event then would not be what it normally is," he said. "You’d be asked to come to the market without your spouse, without your family. You’d be asked to follow a certain path and then very quickly because of the social distancing needed, we wouldn’t be able to handle very many people at any one time. The market has many entrances through different directions and so it was thought that may be also hard to control people from just walking up."
Horton Farmers' Market supporters said the market would have operated at a $7,500 deficit this year. They add that they were prepared to absorb the loss as the venue also pumps $500,000 into the local economy every season.