New Brunswick

Farmers' markets have lost diversity during pandemic, says Dieppe director

Farmers markets were once a place where you could find diverse produce, socialize, sit down for a meal and also see some entertainment, but the executive director of the Dieppe Market says COVID-19 forced owners to narrow the offerings.

Maxime Gauvin says the best market experience combines food, entertainment and meeting friends

Maxime Gauvin, executive director of Really Local Harvest, says some of the qualities that make farmers' markets so special have been lost because of COVID-19 restrictions. (Maxime Gauvin)

Farmers' markets were once a place where you could find diverse produce, socialize, sit down for a meal and also see some entertainment, but the executive director of the Dieppe Market says COVID-19 forced some owners to narrow the offerings. 

Restrictions imposed because of the pandemic are causing farmers' markets to lose their interesting flair, said Maxime Gauvin, executive director of Really Local Harvest, which operates the Dieppe Market.

'Farmers' markets were not made for a pandemic," Gauvin told Information Morning Moncton on Thursday.

"The atmosphere in farmers' markets is completely different from what it was pre-COVID." 

He said the market has worked hard to follow restrictions while also trying to provide an interesting experience for market-goers.

But the best part about Farmers' markets, he said, is the diversity of vendors and products, and the ability to offer an experience with events all in one space. 

"What we were told is, you kind of have to choose," Gauvin said of the challenges imposed by the pandemic.

"If you choose the restaurant category, then you're allowed to have tables for people to eat, but that comes with all of the restaurant criteria."

And with a restaurant, you're also required to take every person's name and phone number as they enter the building and tables must be sanitized in between sittings, Gauvin said.

"So do we add all of these complex things, or do we go more toward the grocery-like feel?"

He said the Dieppe Market chose the grocery-style route, to make sure it wouldn't lose its consistent access to local farmers' produce.

The Dieppe Market just recently reached 50 per cent of its pre-pandemic clientele. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

"They are the core of the market," said Gauvin.    

But other special qualities of the farmers' market have also suffered.

The market has had to ask customers to refrain from socializing to keep things safe and to make sure long lines don't form at the door. Shoppers have said they missed this aspect of the market, Gauvin said.

Gauvin said feedback from vendors suggests their sales are low, and just this week the market reached 50 per cent of its usual clientele. 

He said traffic has consistently fluctuated since the market reopened last year after the early pandemic shutdown, and there's an immediate difference whenever the Moncton health zone moves into the orange level of restrictions. 

"Even though it doesn't affect us, in people's subconscious it's like, 'Oh, yeah, true. This thing is still here.'"

Farmers' markets aren't considered an essential service by Public Health and are forced to close during a lockdown. 

"We're quite disappointed and … worried by that because where else would farmers go to sell their goods."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabelle Leger is a reporter based out of Fredericton. You can reach her at isabelle.leger@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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