British Columbia

B.C. farmers markets launching online store during COVID-19 pandemic

The provincial government is putting up $55,000 to help the 145 farmers markets in B.C. set up online shopping for their customers.

Provincial health officer has ordered vendors to sell only food products

The B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets has 145 member markets. On March 27, provincial health officer Bonnie Henry ordered that markets can only sell food and no other goods during the COVID-19 crisis. (Amy K. Mitchell/Shutterstock)

British Columbians who are missing their regular trip to their local farmers market will soon be able to peruse and purchase from their favourite vendors online.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets is helping its 145 members set up digital shop. As part of the Ministry of Agriculture's Buy BC program, the province is providing $55,000 to cover fees for individual farmers markets to join.

According to the ministry, each participating farmers market will create its own virtual store to best serve its communities.

"The critical importance and resiliency of local food and farmers has never been clearer than now," the association's executive director, Heather O'Hara, said in a statement.

The importance of local food access was not lost on provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.

On Friday, Henry ordered all farmers market vendors to close, with the exception of those who sell food. 

"This is recognition of how important it is for us to be able to access locally grown and produced food," Henry said in a news conference Friday.

Frustrated farmers

In some communities, however, farmers markets have been closed entirely to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Martin Krell, president of the Prince George Farmers' Market, is disappointed the city decided to pull the pin on its local market altogether. He said vendors could still operate under current health orders and distancing guidelines while providing residents with the food they need.

"We don't make toilet paper at the farmers market but we do supply other necessities," Krell said Friday on Daybreak North.

Krell said he had planned, even before Henry announced her order, to limit the market to food vendors and to rearrange the vendors to make sure customers would be distanced safely apart.

But the Prince George market is held at this time of year in a city building and the city was not on board with Krell's plan. 

In a one-sentence statement to CBC, the city said it was reviewing the province's ministerial orders.

Krell said some of Prince George's vendors will be available online.

To find out if your local market is open, or if your favourite vendors are now selling online, visit the B.C. Farmers' Market Trail website.

With files from Andrew Kurjata

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