Horton Farmers' Market Opening Not Approved by City Council on the Basis of Logistics and Costs

City Councillors had a lengthy debate on Tuesday evening while they struggled with the logistics and costs of safely opening the Horton Farmers' Market during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lori Baldwin-Sands, Chair of the Horton Farmer's Market Board of Management as well as a City Councillor, provided a proposed opening plan based on guidelines provided by Southwestern Public Health. Along with the plan which included a site diagram indicating traffic flow and an estimated cost to the city of $7500 to run the market in 2020, with the condition that further expenses may need to come in the form of fencing rental to ensure traffic flow on site, staffing for additional help on market days, and additional janitorial supplies and contracted janitorial services.

When the opening of the Horton Farmers Market went to a vote at St. Thomas City Council yesterday it was not approved. This will no doubt be a big blow to many of the agricultural and food vendors that rely on the Horton Farmers' Market as a source of their revenue in an already economically hard time.

At least one former vendor at the market saw this writing on the wall and arranged for alternate forms of vegetable pickup for the customers they would normally welcome to their stalls on Saturday mornings. Romina Bortoluzzi and Roger Thiessen who operate Our Fields, a local vegetable farm in the Aylmer area, have already arranged with Caps Off Brewing to have their former market customers pick up vegetables at the brewery.
"With the delayed market opening we felt we needed to get ahead of the game and contacted Caps Off Brewing, because I knew Rick from the local St. Thomas Home Brew Club, and they were really generous and said we could borrow their patio for a couple hours every Saturday afternoon." 
"The market closing is disappointing for the city, even if it is limited it's a real loss for the city and the community as a whole."   
- Roger Thiessen, Our Fields

We also talked about the decision with Mayor Joe Preston during Mayor's Update Live last night and he explained his position on it and helped us understand the other councillors' opinions.  We couldn't hear the full debate ourselves since audio the issues with the city's livestream broadcast of council make it difficult to hear anyone who is not in the actual room.

One of the main concerns about the market is the indoor building and how effective social distancing will be in there at preventing community transmission of COVID-19. We touched base with Annie Oegema, the Retail Manager at Oegema Turkey Farms, who is often at the market to hear her thoughts on that as well. 
We're going to miss it, but without the community feel it wouldn't be same, and because of the challenges involved with operating it in a safe manner, especially the indoor market we understand why the city would make this decision. But maybe this can be a catalyst for finding new ways to provide St. Thomas residents their fresh local produce and meats. 
-Annie Oegema, Retail Manager | Oegema Turkey Farms
All in all it's a hard decision to make with a lot of factors from the vendors to the customers who feel more comfortable buying their groceries in an open air market from local suppliers. Hopefully this discussion continues and the City is able to find a safe way to open the market in the 2020 season. 

Full Proposed Plan of Operation for Horton Farmers' Market 2020 Season Below


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