Written by: Brig Gubins, volunteer & blog writer 

Now that the summer is almost over, planning has already begun for next year’s market season. We have been so happy with the successes this year; for some time, there was uncertainty over the market opening at all. Rules and plans changed frequently in the early weeks of the 2020 season. While there have been a few challenges, the staff and volunteers at Withrow Market have been overjoyed with the support we’ve received from the community.

The start of September has marked 6 months since COVID-19 changed our world. By now, we’re all familiar with new safety measures, rapid-fire statistics being published every day, and the collective uncertainty about the future. Wearing a mask, sanitizing our hands frequently, and maintaining physical distancing are all old-hat to us now.

Readers of this blog who have also visited the market recently will have noticed that things are quite different this year. Withrow Market has been adapting to the changes as they come. 

In early stages, it was thought that the market would be an online-only model, with Withrow Market’s team of volunteers packing individual orders before customers picked them up. It was a steep learning curve for many to create online stores for the first time. 

By July, the City of Toronto gave approval for farmers’ markets to operate in-person, and our first market of the season was held on July 4th with some very big changes.

Despite Withrow Market operating in person as of July, several vendors decided to maintain an online-only sales model for a variety of reasons. The pandemic has led to staffing problems on many farms, and for others, interacting with customers at a booth in the big city has been too much of a risk. Other vendors chose to keep both their online store-fronts open in addition to their in-person booths, having found that both options allowed them to plan their weekly market days more effectively. 

The first leaves are beginning to brown, and only 5 weeks remain until the market season is over for the year (October 17). But that means 5 more weeks of enjoying crisp Saturday mornings, fresh local food, and getting to say hello to all of our favourite vendors. We have been reflecting on our successes and the challenges we have faced this year, and we are working to make every market season better than the last. 

Every week, we have patient customers at every tent. It has been so nice to hear the community talk to us about their favourite pies at Mnandi’s Pies, or to be the bringer of joy to kids who ask if “the popsicle lady” (Happy Pops) is here. We all feel your pain too, when you get to the market a little later only to find that your egg guy (Murray’s Farm) has sold out. Those of us working at the market have all taken short breaks to buy some delicious mochi as a weekend treat from Natural Japaneats, or we’ve seen so many people carrying pastries from Motherdough Bakery that we’ve had to go and try one for ourselves. It has been a joy working with all of our vendors, and we have been so glad to see both familiar and new faces from the community every week. 

Several customers noticed we had less produce available since Cookstown Greens was not in-person this season and their presence was dearly missed. Add on that patrons still miss the organic fruit from Feast of Fields Farm (they sold their farm in 2019). Although that doesn’t mean we haven’t had any fruit and veggies. We still have five incredible farmers that have been bringing all they can despite all the extra challenges this year. Labour shortages, seeds and supplies shortages, and mental stress. Plus weather was a constant challenge, with frost late in May, and drought in June and July causing significant damage to crops.

To address the decrease of fruit and vegetable options, the Market staff and volunteers have been working together on a project to bring hyper-local produce to the market. If you would like to get involved with a community-run local food initiative, we are always happy to engage with our community and involve more people.

While we already have some ideas for the future, we’d love to hear more from you directly! Markets would not be possible without community support. If you have any questions or would like to make suggestions, or just want to say hello, you can email us at withrowmarket@gmail.com. The market is also on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn) as @WithrowMarket. 

We plan on continuing to update our readers on the plans we make for the future, any progress with our new projects, and what is still happening this year. 

Thank you for everyone’s continued support of Withrow Park Farmers’ Market!