It’s “National Farmers’ Market Week” where events in the first full week of August celebrate the farm-to-table movement and highlight the role farmers’ markets play in healthy communities.
Although not officially recognized in any official capacity in Canada, farmers in southwestern Ontario are celebrating as business at the province’s farmers’ markets continue to rebound from more than two years of pandemic lows.
“COVID had its challenges but we bounced back,” said Sarah Graham, owner of Sarah’s Farm Market in Chatham-Kent. “We feel more and more normal every day.”
Graham said their crops were the best in several years, attributing favorable weather conditions, but said rising inflation, among other things, had forced retail prices higher in order to maintain profitability.
“The cost of living and the cost of food are going up and the products are a challenge,” Graham explained.
“The minimum wage is going up. The fuel rises. Fertilizer spending has also skyrocketed this year. And that extra money has to come from somewhere. So we have a small increase in our retail products this year. »
According to Graham, one of the biggest challenges remains finding reliable workers.
“I have 28 employees right now and I find it difficult,” Graham said. “I would even expand the facility with more fruit stalls, give more jobs to students, but I just can’t find the help to do that.
Graham explained that she thinks buying in bulk at the farmers’ market is more affordable for families looking to find deals for their grocery bill.
“It’s hard, you know, in my opinion, I have four children who buy a dozen corn at seven or six dollars a dozen, it’s always a great way to feed them and fill their bellies. If I were to go to McDonald’s drive-thru, it would cost about $80 to feed them. So in terms of comparison, I think shopping at the farmers market is still the best way to go for a large family, especially.”
Graham added that they are encouraging volume sales as the harvest season resumes, suggesting deals should be struck on things like zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and corn as soon as they become readily available.
Graham noted that it takes about eight minutes for their produce to get from their fields to their stalls. “There are great choices! Fresh, locally grown, so even though costs are rising and retail prices have gone up a bit, it’s still the cheapest way to eat by far.
Meanwhile, other places nearby say they are struggling to find vendors for their weekly farmers’ market.
Bill Myer, of the Chatham Sales Arena Farmers Market, said there were more than 30 vendors selling produce each week, but believes many have become accustomed to selling their wares from roadside stalls.
“The problem is that they got used to selling it from home. And of course, you know, the labor shortage is an issue.
The general manager said: “They are not able to bring people in from out of the country to pick or plant and as a result they don’t want to plant the whole crop, so maybe they are planting one. third and they use the family to pick. the third when it’s ready.
Myer told CTV News they are working to attract and train new vendors as well as customers suggesting foot traffic has dropped to a third of what it was before the pandemic.
“We received up to 3,000 people a day for a visit. Now we are about a third of that and trying to get it back as you know is a big job,” he said.
“You can drive on most highways around the Essex County area, Chatham-Kent area, and you’ll see fruit stands, farm produce stalls everywhere. And it’s the farmers who are selling door-to-door and they’re literally selling a third of their crop because that’s all they can pick up. So that’s all they plant because of the labor shortage.