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Shop Local Ontario to offer virtual farmers market for regions across the province

Shop Local Ontario is launching an online farmers market that will help shoppers support local businesses.
Shop Local Ontario is launching an online farmers market that will help shoppers support local businesses. Katie Alaimo/Kalamazoo Gazette via AP

With less than two weeks until launch, Shop Local Ontario has just shy of 250 vendors across the province ready to put their wares online as part of a virtual farmers market experience the creators hope will outlast the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Customers will be able to go to the website, pick the city closest to them and buy from vendors within the region. Orders would have to be placed by a specific day, with delivery the following day due to the perishable nature of many of the products.

READ MORE: Local support key for surviving coronavirus pandemic pinch, say London, Ont., brewers

Alison Boudreau, creative director of Cutting Horse Creative, which is behind the Shop Local Ontario website, says the idea began with her boss, Marie Fraser.

“Once the pandemic hit, the CEO of our company, Marie, was driving down the street and saw a farmers market sign and thought, ‘They’re not going to have much business this year, and I wonder what I can do to help,'” said Boudreau.

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“Our regular business, we run a website in marketing with a company with a specialty in e-commerce. So we thought, that’s where this idea was born; this is a way we can really help people.”

The website, shoplocalontario.com, is scheduled to launch June 10. Boudreau says vendors can still pre-register to have their goods included on the website.

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“There’s no cost to sign up. We’re not going to be marking up any of the items. The vendors are setting their own prices. Once they’ve pre-registered, they’ll just be getting more emails from us about what to do next,” she said.

Among the vendors is Mr. Amish out of Belmont, Ont., just southeast of London. The business offers items including coffee, cheese curds, aged cheddar, sausages and smoked meats, preserves, baked goods, soap and more.

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“When we noticed the post on Facebook that Shop Local was looking for Ontario vendors, we thought right away we need to get registered for this great idea moving forward during COVID-19,” said Mike Hathaway, public relations for Mr. Amish.

“We are counting down the days for the June 10, 2020 launch as we are very excited to get started into this new virtual farmers market.”

Boudreau believes the pandemic has resulted in shifting attitudes with an increased focus on supporting local business and moving towards online shopping.

“I think what we really want to do is make that easy for people,” she said.

“Hopefully, one day, things get back to normal, and I think at that point, our main goal is going to be letting people that were normally doing grocery store pickup have an option that lets them do farmers market products all year round in a super easy way.”

READ MORE: Edmonton sees huge jump in #SupportLocal tweets during COVID-19 shutdown

While the service has yet to officially launch, Boudreau says there’s already a lot of excitement surrounding it.

“I’ve had a lot of people messaging us on social media that they’re really excited for when we do launch,” she said.

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“I think there’s going to be something for everyone. You get to explore all the different, cool businesses there are in your region.”

Out of roughly 250 vendors registered as of Tuesday, eight are London, Ont.-based businesses. They include retailers selling hummus; chicken products, such as meat and eggs; beauty supplies, including soap, lip balm and bath sets; a variety of produce, including edible flowers and fresh garlic; preserves and condiments; and various handmade items from local artisans.

WATCH: Durham Region farmers market going virtual amid COVID-19 challenges

Farmer’s markets going virtual amid COVID-19 challenges
Farmer’s markets going virtual amid COVID-19 challenges