Deep-rooted Haldimand farmers markets show resilience in the face of COVID-19

Deep-rooted Haldimand farmers markets show resilience in the face of COVID-19
A drawing of the Dunnville Market, 1900

By Kurt Lewis

The Haldimand Press

Farmers’ markets have a longstanding history in Haldimand County dating back to the 1800s. Despite COVID-19’s impact, farmers’ markets have shown resilience, with Dunnville and Caledonia’s markets reopening this summer and Hagersville’s set to return in the 2021 season.

Before the construction of Caledonia’s town hall in 1857, Edinburgh Square was simply called Market Square, where local farmers and vendors would come together to sell their crops and goods. The following year, as the town hall opened, the market was expanded into the basement of the building so that butchers could showcase their business inside.

Cayuga used to have a weekly market for local farmers to sell their products outside the town hall as well, starting when it was erected in 1873.

Cayuga Market, circa 1890s

In Hagersville, the first market was held in September 1892. At least half a dozen farmers had grown tired of trading their crops with merchants in exchange for money due, and so they tied their horses to poles in the street to sell their products for immediate cash. Mrs. James Irving and Mrs. Clark were two of the first women to provide their own goods for sale.

The Dunnville farmer’s market was first organized by local farmers in 1893. In June 1895, there were reportedly 315 rigs in the market, reaching city proportions.

In a COVID-19 world, supporting your local farmers might look a little different. Starting in April 2020, local farmers switched to an online system to “get doors open and get products moving,” says James Richardson, President of the Dunnville Farmers’ Market Association. Richardson’s farm produces many products for the market, including maple syrup, fresh produce, and baked goods.

Hagersville Market, circa 1950s

Richardson’s farm was open in March when the pandemic first became prevalent, but the farm then pivoted to an online shop with home delivery within a day. The assumption was that this would continue through the summer, but in the last week of June the provincial government announced that markets were allowed to physically open. With less vendors working, increased physical distancing measures, and plenty of sanitizer and masks, the markets were ready to take on the challenge.

Dunnville’s Farmers’ Market reopened June 27 with several changes put in place to adhere to government guidelines.

“As much as we know you love a leisurely stroll at the market, it’s not a good practice right now,” said the Market Board’s Facebook post ahead of opening. “We are encouraging quick trips. Avoiding clusters of shoppers will be a big priority this year at the market for us. We ask that our customers purchase and move on. Any socializing can be done outside the market building.”

Caledonia’s Farmers’ Market decided to open about a month later on July 30. It’s Facebook post from July 27 said, “Please make sure you practice social distancing while visiting us. Also sanitize your hands. We will have hand sanitizing stations at the market as well as ones at each vendor table.”

Hagersville Market, circa 1950s

Hagersville’s Market is set to return for the 2021 season.

“The management of the public health and safety concerns is of utmost importance and it is most likely that the Hagersville Farmers’ Market will remain closed for the balance of the 2020 season with a plan to reopen at the beginning of the 2021 season,” said Interim Market Coordinator Rob Phillips.

“The community response has been just overwhelming and amazing,” said Richardson. “All around the province, people have now realized the fragility of our food supply and the importance of buying local.”

Goods sold at the markets include organic fruits and vegetables, lavender, smoked meats, baked goods, cider, and preserves.

Open rain or shine, the Dunnville market is located at Main and Market streets, operating on Saturdays and Tuesdays from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. until the winter holidays. The Caledonia market can be found in the Canadian Tire parking lot on Thursdays from 2 to 7 p.m.

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