Markets flourishing in Saskatoon as people support local
'Local foods are becoming more popular whenever there is a crisis,' expert says
"Support local" has become an increasingly popular slogan during COVID-19. Many people in Saskatoon seem to have answered the call by shopping at local markets.
Markets in Saskatoon come in all shapes and sizes, from traditional set-ups to online farmers markets.
"Probably this year, we are seeing the highest demand or interest in local food," said Dennis Skoworodko, owner of Our Farm YXE, a small 2.4-acre farm just outside Saskatoon in the hamlet of Furdale.
This is his sixth season running a Saturday mini market in the city in summer and fall. He sells his certified organic produce.
Skoworodko and his team usually open at 8:00 a.m. CST, but people have been showing up as early as 7:15 a.m. this year.
"We have never seen that happen before," said Skoworodko. "Definitely since COVID hit the interest just skyrocketed."
He also offers subscriptions for weekly produce deliveries. They are way up as well, he said.
Saskatoon Farmers' Market expands reach
The Saskatoon Farmers' Market Cooperative, which earlier this year moved from its downtown location to a new permanent home in the North Industrial area, has started to expand its reach to the south of the city.
The co-operative started a virtual market during COVID-19. In May, vendors were able to return to their permanent weekend location on Koyl Avenue in the north of Saskatoon for indoor and outdoor shopping. In July, the co-op added a smaller outdoor market in the Stonebridge neighbourhood with 10 to 20 vendors.
"Before COVID occurred we actually had plans to have pop-up markets all over the city during the week," said Adithya Ramachandran, president of the Saskatoon Farmers' Market.
The co-op, which has been running since 1975, still plans to expand its reach in the city and open more pop-up weekday markets during the next few years.
Ramachandran said the pandemic makes it difficult to compare this year's business at the new location to previous seasons. Like other places the market has to limit the number of customers and provide more space between vendors.
"That's an impediment to utilizing every possible square foot of space," he said.
Ramachandran said the new location has brought some new customers, particularly from closer neighbourhoods such as Hampton Village and Lawson Heights, as well as the cities of Warman and Martensville. He said about 2,000 people visit each Saturday.
People wanting to support local
Customers in Stonebridge seem be enjoy the opportunity to shop local at the co-op's pop-up markets.
"I'd say it's all about quality," said Albert Lebastard. "We normally get ... fresh produce and the wife has gotten a bit of a taste for some local alcoholic beverages."
He said they used to visit the farmers' market "religiously" until COVID-19 hit. They switched to the co-op's virtual market and are now enjoying the opportunity to shop outdoors.
"Local foods are becoming more popular whenever there is a crisis, it does happen from time to time," said Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor in the faculty of management at Dalhousie University.
Charelbois said this is a global trend.
"People, when they feel uncertain about the future, they go back to their roots. They go back to what they know."
Outdoor market at River Landing
Another farmers market has taken over the co-op's old home at River Landing, at least for this summer.
Street Stall Saturdays has partnered with the Community Farmers Market of Saskatoon to bring more than 35 local vendors out every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. CST. The Community Farmers Market started 13 yeas ago and runs at different places in the city.
"It has been really great," said Wanetta Dunlop, board member of the Community Farmers Market. "It has been at least as good [as last year] and then even more in some ways."
Dunlop said new vendors have joined their group, both at the downtown location and the weekday markets, which run Tuesdays and Fridays on Eighth Street and Thursdays at the north-end Peavey Mart.
The Community Farmers Market plans to set up on Market Square at River Landing every Saturday until Thanksgiving, weather permitting.
While people can shop on Market Square, the market building itself remains unused due to ongoing roof repair.
Lesley Anderson, director of planning and development at the City of Saskatoon, said in a statement that the city hasn't finalized a new tenant for the Market Square building, but they "continue to have positive negotiations with the preferred proponent."
Virtual farmers market booming during COVID-19
Some former vendors of the Saskatoon Farmers' Market have experienced a lot of support for their new small businesses.
The Little Market Box, which started in December 2019, is an online farmers market and has a small retail hub in Saskatoon's King George neighbourhood.
"Pretty much overnight when the pandemic was declared we increased our online sales substantially," said Julianna Tan, co-owner of the Little Market Box. "In one day we had … 90 orders to process and we were like, 'Wow this is crazy.'"
According to Tan, people can shop locally made, baked, grown or gathered goods online as well as in store from a variety of over 60 vendors.
Tan, who also runs a small chocolatier business with her sister called Those Girls at the Market, said they continue seeing a lot of online traffic, but "now that people feel safer and safer" more have been coming through their doors again.
Meanwhile, another market on the west side of the city reopened to the public on Thursday.
CHEP Good Food Inc. runs their Community Market at Station 20 West, offering food from non-local producers, Saskatchewan farmers and their own vegetable garden in the city. CHEP's Community Market is open Tuesdays and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. CST.
With files from Saskatoon Morning