Farmers’ Market Vendors Reflect On The Impact of COVID-19

By Hilda Nouri, Urban Agriculture Manager at The Stop

It’s been almost 2 years of living in a pandemic where we have been pushed to adapt, change and find creative approaches to the myriad of impacts that have been made on our personal, professional, and community lives. If you have been staying up to date or attending our farmers’ market during this time, you may have noticed the many iterations our market has gone through as COVID restrictions evolve: moving inside, then outside, then a hybrid indoor and outdoor model, to pick ups and alternative markets our vendors have put together and more.

There have been many challenges for everyone involved, but especially for our vendors. They have had to deal with shortages in labour, stalls from suppliers, closures of partner vendors and rental spaces, decreased in-person sales and a push to adapt to online marketing all while running a business. Farmers and small-business owners have had to adapt a lot! 

We have been constantly hearing what our vendors are going through, and wanted to share with you what those changes looked and felt like. We spoke with Joe – a dedicated farmer from Atiba Farms who joined our market this past Spring, Rebekka – a professional pickler from Alchemy Pickles, Dawn – a Toronto renown baker from Evelyn’s Crackers and Dyson, an expert forager from Forbes Wild Foods. Here’s what they shared with us: 

What have the biggest impacts from the pandemic been on your business and life in the past two years?

“Because of Covid-19, I did not have the staff and volunteers to build a Greenhouse and expand my farm as I had planned. I also had fewer sales.” 

-Joe, Farmer, Atiba Farms

“Besides the obvious distancing from family, friends, and customers, and “regular life”, the biggest impact on the business have been supply chain issues.  So much time is spent vetting suppliers, materials, produce, packaging and then the entire supply becomes seriously disrupted.  Farmers had to pivot in an extreme way which changed the products we were able to get. We are still looking for new suppliers.“

– Rebekka, Fermented Foods Vendor
, Alchemy Pickles

“We had to scramble and get an online store up and running and figure out how our customers could access our products. Luckily, we were able to do it quite quickly.  We also had to spend a lot more time online doing social media to increase sales and answer questions about online sales and other inquiries.”

– Dawn, Baker
, Evelyn’s Crackers

“The pandemic all but ended one of our major sales channels (food service)  and disrupted markets in the first few months so we had to pivot. Since then we have been able to build back our losses however having to move because our landlord went bankrupt as a result of the pandemic put new stresses on our business, now in a new location that has some space for retail we are seeing a positive future as we continue to deal with supply issues and new customer bases.”
– Dyson, Forage Farmer
, Forbes Wild Foods

What changes have you had to make for your business because of the pandemic’s impacts?

“I have had to work longer hours and invest more of my funds in the farm.”
-Joe, Farmer, Atiba Farms

“We stopped planning for the longer-term future of the business and concentrated on just things in the immediate vicinity. We increased wholesale accounts of all types to diversify income.”

– Rebekka, Fermented Foods Vendor, Alchemy Pickles

Keep up with our Farmers’ Market on Instagram at @TheStopFarmersMarket for more on our local vendors.

“We expanded our business to include some pantry items, not just baked goods and breads.  We also used our shop in Toronto as a hub for any vendor that wanted a place to drop-off pre-orders.
We also helped start the Farmers Market Collective, a small group of vendors dedicated to getting the markets reopen, pushing the groups running the markets to change how the markets are run,  trying to have our opinions considered in market management, and letting the market community know they could still access local food.”

– Dawn, Baker, Evelyn’s Crackers

“We pivoted away from supplying the restaurant industry and focused on distilleries and other bulk customers, we cut our hours and put restrictions on people shopping in person while migrating our online store to a more robust system.”

– Dyson, Forage Farmer, Forbes Wild Foods

What has been helpful and/or what have you been grateful for in terms of your business in the past 2 years?

“I am grateful that I have a close association with Black Creek Community Farm as Co-chair of the Steering Committee, which allowed me to set up a mutually beneficial arrangement to supplement my produce for sale with fruits and vegetables from BCCF.”

-Joe, Farmer, Atiba Farms

Visit our Farmers’ Market every Saturday from 8am to 1pm at Artscape Wychwood Barns.

“We are incredibly grateful to be able to keep our staff and keep the business running. The support of peers was essential and dedicated customers kept us going! Fellow business owners really reached out to help each other, we were not alone!”

– Rebekka, Fermented Foods Vendor, Alchemy Pickles

“We are incredibly grateful to our customers for being so supportive, kind and generous.  They have continually ordered from us, returned to the market after every closure and just generally been extremely tolerant and supportive of the ever changing rules and restrictions.”

– Dawn, Baker, Evelyn’s Crackers

“Grateful that people are still passionate enough about the foods we sell to support us and our harvesters, thankful for the federal supports for businesses that have helped up maintain and for the community we moved into on the Danforth.”

– Dyson, Forage Farmer, Forbes Wild Foods

What can you do to support local vendors?

The pandemic has taught us a lot about slowing down, thinking about our food chain and the power of community support. Without farmers’ markets many vendors, farmers and small business owners wouldn’t still be open today. We believe farmers’ markets are a way to keep supporting our local economy, ethical farming, sustainable food production and good food. Help keep vendors like these alive and our local food system growing, by doing the following:

  • Shop local: shop at our farmers’ market and others near you. If there is no in-person market in your neighborhood, many markets and local vendors have switched to online platforms; check out their websites for info.
  • Don’t forget about farmers’ market during the Winter months: there may appear to be less of an abundance of fresh produce and harvest at markets during the colder months, but many vendors still have fresh produce from their greenhouses or root cellars still available, along with many other vendors who offer prepared, jarred or frozen food!
  • Spread the word: let your friends, family and community know that our market is still open and running year-round at the Wychwood Barns! We are one of the few farmers’ markets that remain open throughout the year.

For more helpful info about our market and all of our vendors, their online ordering options and vendor list, visit our Farmers’ Market page, and make sure to follow us on our NEW farmers’ market page on Instagram for the most up-to-date news and highlights: @TheStopFarmersMarket