Rainy summer washes out plans for new Stittsville farmers market

This year's heavier-than-normal rainfall has washed out plans for a new farmers market in Stittsville — but there's hope it could still open next year.

Market association could only find one vegetable vendor to participate

Greer Knox, president of the Ottawa Farmers' Market Association, stands outside her stall at the Westboro market on July 15, 2017. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

This year's heavier-than-normal rainfall has washed out plans for a new farmers market in Stittsville — but organizers say they hope to have it up and running next year.

Earlier this month, the Ottawa Farmers' Market Association decided to hold off on launching the market this summer, after they couldn't find enough fruit and vegetable farmers willing to rent stalls.

"I think people were very reluctant to commit to another market when they weren't sure they could even have enough produce for the markets they've already committed to," said Greer Knox, the association's president.

"(It) just was a poor choice of year, really."

In May, approximately 176 millimetres of rain fell on Ottawa, breaking the 164-millimetre record set in May 1986 and more than doubling the typical May precipitation average of 83 millimetres.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is calling 2017 "the year of the big wet."

'Very slow start'

Damp, mucky fields have made it hard for farmers to harvest all their crops, said Knox.

As a result, many local markets have only been operating at about 85 to 90 per cent vendor capacity this year, she said.

"This year has been a very slow start for many, many farmers," said Knox, who runs a berry and vegetable farm in North Gower and has been selling her wares — mostly jams, pickles and relishes — at local markets for the past 11 years.

"The fields were flooded, and even once they dried up — and out where I am, they have not dried up — we haven't had any sun. So things just are not growing the way they normally do."

A flooded farmer's field near Carp, seen earlier this month. Heavy rains have made it difficult for local farmers to get into their fields and harvest fruits and vegetables. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The plan had been to open a Friday evening farmers market at Village Square Park, just off Stittsville Main Street in the heart of the west Ottawa community.

Knox said that they would have needed roughly 12 agricultural vendors to make the Stittsville market "financially feasible," but the board could only find one willing to take part.

Stittsville Coun. Shad Qadri told CBC News on Saturday that the market idea first came about during discussions for a new community design plan that was approved in 2014.

A 'sense of disappointment'

He said there was a "sense of disappointment" — both personally, and among Stittsville residents — that the market wouldn't be operating this year, but said he remains hopeful it would be in place next summer.

"What we're interested in is bringing awareness to the residents that, hey, we do have some good areas in Stittsville to shop local. And a farmers market would have done that," said Qadri.

"It would've invited or encouraged people from surrounding areas and surrounding neighbourhoods to shop local in Stittsville."

The Stittsville market would have also been one of two new markets in the city in 2017, alongside one that's already opened in Riverside South. That market has given farmers who couldn't get into the popular Lansdowne Park market an opportunity to set up shop.

"Trying to start two at the same time was maybe a little more than we were prepared for," said Marc Just, a vegetable farmer who also sits on the market association's board.

I wouldn't say the crops are bad. They're just maybe not as many of them.- Marc Just, vegetable farmer

The wet weather was also hampering operations on Just's own 40-hectare farm near Alexandria, Ont., about 100 kilometres east of Ottawa.

"We've certainly missed some seedings of beans and corn, where we just haven't been able to get into the field with the tractor for a week or two at a time," he said.

"I wouldn't say the crops are bad. There are just maybe not as many of them. Because what's planted is all growing well."

Marc Just of Just Farms near Alexandria, Ont., says he's missed vegetable seedings because of the heavy rainfall around eastern Ontario this spring and summer. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The new plan, Knox said, is to launch the Stittsville market in 2018. The board may reconsider holding it on Friday evenings, she added, as many farmers are busy preparing for Saturday and Sunday markets during that time.

"We'll still go ahead and try to come up with a solution for next year. We haven't given up on it — it's just we couldn't get enough agricultural vendors to commit," said Knox.

"You can have a market, but it's not much of a market without vegetables."

People wander the stalls at the slightly soggy Byron Avenue farmers market in Ottawa's Westboro neighbourhood. Vendor attendance at the city's markets has been down this year because the rain has made it difficult for farmers to harvest their fruits and vegetables. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)