A Manitoba farmers’ market has maintained its typically busy summer despite COVID-19 restrictions — and necessary changes to its operations.
“It’s been different in so many ways and it’s different… week to week,” said Phil Veldhuis, St. Norbert Farmers’ Market’s treasurer and a honey producer.
“We got line ups going through the sanitizing stations, we have drawn out line ups at the individual booths where we’re asking folks to maintain physical distancing — for the most part, people have been really good and really understanding.”
The large, open-air space has allowed the market to let hundreds stream in and out when it’s operating — although, shoppers are encouraged to get in and get out, rather than linger.
“The biggest difference is we’ve kind of gone back to our core business of being a food market — in previous years we were kind of a tourist destination, we had live music and a lot of social visiting and hanging around,” Veldhuis said. “We’re encouraging people now to come get your essentials and move on out so there’s room for more people.”
One of Veldhuis’ concerns at the start of the season was making sure farmers knew the market would run, despite restrictions.
“Early on my fear was making sure the farmers knew that we were going to be here and running somehow, so they would put their crop in the ground — the reason we have corn on the cob now is someone in the early part of May thought that they would be able to sell it in August,” Veldhuis said.
Organic farmer and small-scale pasta manufacturer Hermann Grauer, who was busy selling fresh eggs and dried pasta Saturday, said demand for his product has remained strong despite the economic downtown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — his and his wife’s operation, Nature’s Farm outside of Steinbach, sells its products in Manitoba stores and ships out of province in addition to selling directly to consumers at farmers’ markets.
At times, he said, their concern was a lack of product rather than a lack of demand.
However, he lost contracts with hoteliers and fine-dining restaurants in Winnipeg when the province locked down at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Our economic side of that was very manageable… There is some hardship there, of course, there’s accounts that you’ll never collect,” he said.
But bigger was his concern for restaurants and hotels that had to close.
“Those people had to close and our heart goes out to them because there’s nothing those people did wrong — that affected us negatively, not just with the loss of business but it’s also the loss of relationships.”