Request for Assistance to Farmers Markets to Meet COVID-19 Measures

To:       OMAFRA: minister.omafra@ontario.ca

Public Health Ontario: communications@oahpp.ca

The National Farmers Union (NFU) would like to thank Public Health Ontario and all of the Public Health Units across the province for their tireless work to keep Ontarians healthy. It has been a Herculean task and we are grateful for the clarity and focus that you have provided. Ontarians have listened and are flattening the curve.

NFU farmers dedicate their careers to growing, producing and raising the good food to keep Canadians healthy. In that light, we celebrate that farmers markets have been recognized as essential services. The NFU had called for that recognition across the country in March (https://www.nfu.ca/farmers-markets-are-essential-services-says-nfu/) and issued a letter in support: https://www.nfu.ca/letter-of-support-of-farmers-markets-direct-sales-of-farmers-food-across-canada/.

Farmers Markets Ontario has confirmed that the Ontario government has recognized farmers markets as essential services. We request that OMAFRA include the decision on their website linking to Essential Services or provide another way for farmers markets to clearly demonstrate the Province’s directive on this. This is important for farmers markets that are navigating conversations with different Public Health Units and municipalities across the province.

NFU members are glad to be working in partnership with our Public Health Units to create safe farmers markets for Ontarians to purchase directly from farmers. Many Public Health Units have promptly created guidelines that have outlined how farmers markets can safely operate across the Province. We thank you for those.

Some farmers markets have made the transition quickly and seamlessly; others are struggling for two reasons:

  • Farmers and farmers markets do not all have the technological capacity to rapidly transition their sales and customers to an on-line platform.
  • Some municipalities ceased all operations on municipal property. Farmers markets that typically operate on municipal land are unable to meet to pack orders and/or to vend from the property.

We request that OMAFRA support markets through funding support to enable technology sharing to convert farmers markets to the virtual markets suggested by guidance such as that provided by Farmers Markets Ontario, developed in consultation with Public Health Ontario (https://www.farmersmarketsontario.com/covid-19-modifying-market-operations/). Farmers markets need to not only shift to on-line sales, but also market the transition, train their members, on-board shoppers and promote their products. All of these are critical for the local food system to continue. We note that the Province of Nova Scotia has recognized that farmers require this support and has provided funding to the Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia to support their markets in this transition. (https://farmersmarketsnovascotia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Mar-23-2020-FMNS-COVID-19-statement.pdf). We are also in communication with the Greenbelt Farmers Market Network who is providing short term access to online services as a pilot project. With funding, both organizations have been able to respond quickly to address the crisis.

We also request support from OMAFRA and the Public Health Units to meet with municipal staff to discuss the critical importance of maintaining a local food system through this crisis and to work with municipalities to provide safe access to market vendors on municipal property where required.

Our local farmers and their markets need your immediate help to ensure they can continue in production and sales. The COVID crisis has revealed the absolute necessity of local and regional food systems. Farmers producing and selling on a local scale are critical to the functioning of these food systems.

We thank you for your prompt consideration.

Sincerely,

Don Ciparis