Farmers’ market moves online amid demand for local food, adjusting to COVID-19

Organizers seek to balance safety while helping small producers sell product

Shoppers at St. Norbert Farmers’ market can now opt to buy online and pick up instead of browsing in person.

The move comes as part of efforts to maintain public health regulations while making local food available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a market for food and household goods, it will remain open despite recent closures of non-essential businesses. However, the market has reduced its number of vendors, said executive director Marilyn Firth, and spaced them farther apart to maintain social distancing.

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Other sellers aren’t able to come to the market because of health concerns, or concerns for their families, Firth said. Many small food producers depend on farmers’ markets for sales.

After ordering online, customers can pick up orders through a drive-thru system at the market. Staff will either leave orders for people to pick up, or place them directly in the trunks of their cars.

Vendors will also be there as usual, but with distancing and safety measures in place.

Until May, markets are every second week.

Firth said market vendors are seeing an uptick in sales — partially because people are keen to stock up. She added that the short, local supply chain may feel safer to some.

“People are starting to think about this,” said Rudy Reimer, owner of Watersong Farms, which sells steelhead trout and chicken. “There’s a place right close by. Why aren’t we getting our stuff from there?”

Reimer said he’s seen an increase in direct sales to customers, though this hasn’t made up for the loss of the food-service market. He added that the infrastructure for getting local food to people is still largely underdeveloped.

Firth said small food producers are struggling to decide how much to grow this year, as supply chains are in limbo for them and for larger players.

“I hope (this pandemic) would remind people of the value of supporting their local businesses all the time,” she said.

About the author

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Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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