Would a farmers’ market work downtown?

“We polled local vendors and farmers, and heard loud and clear that there is definitely interest in a downtown farmers’ market.”

Stefano Grande Downtown
Stefano Grande

With much talk about downtown grocers lately, perhaps now is the time to think outside the box and about our local gardens when it comes to access to food in our city’s core.

Historically, many small and large towns in Canada boasted farmers’ markets that not only served the community at large but were important social and economic institutions. These markets traditionally offered people a place to get their fresh food, to socialize and to meet their neighbours. With the advent of supermarkets in the fifties and sixties, farmers’ markets slowly faded away.

Today, with the resurgence of people in our downtown and inner city, there is a need for more food options and a truly palpable desire to “create place”. Perhaps now is the right time for a downtown farmers’ market. It would give people another reason to come downtown, and would expose them to the many shops and restaurants located in the heart of our city.

Purchasing local brings on our pride.
Purchasing local brings on our pride.

Economic asset

According to a new organization, Farmers’ Markets Canada, farmers’ markets generated $3 billion in economic activity in 2008. There is an obvious demand
for these markets and for fresh, seasonal and local produce.

When we purchase local, we are also promoting a sense of place – and pride in Winnipeg. It makes us feel better connected to our community. When we connect with others and place a value on commodities, especially local ones, it creates more opportunities for local business.

Shoppers love farmers’ markets because they can purchase top-quality, farm-fresh products directly from the person who produced them, and can often find products they won’t find anywhere else. People want to support sustainably grown products.

Farmers’ markets not only help support the local economy, they reduce transportation costs and food waste. Located downtown, they help create a unique destination for residents there, along with office workers, students, and tourists – adding vibrancy to our streets and sidewalks and attracting business for downtown stores and restaurants nearby.

Imagine food products like locally and organically grown produce, home baked pies, pastries, bread, pickles, jams and flowers! And the market  would be a busy and profitable outlet for local food producers at every level – farmers, fishers, butchers, bakers, cheese makers, brewers, florists, and restaurants.

But the question is: how? Local farmers need to be interested. We polled local vendors and farmers, and have heard loud and clear that there is definitely interest in a downtown farmers’ market. But employees, residents, students and Winnipeggers also need to support it. It would need to be organized in a collaborative manner to minimalize its impact on local markets trying to start up.

Block off some territory?

Where could it be located? We’ve blocked off streets for festivals in the past, so it’s not completely out of the question to do the same thing for a farmers’ market. Farmers would also need space to park their vehicles, set up their stands, and be situated in a visible location close to bike routes and where there is space for pedestrians.

What do you think? Contact me at stefano@downtownwinnipegbiz.com. The BIZ wants to hear from you.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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