C/O Hamilton Farmers' Market

Despite being hit hard by the pandemic, the Hamilton Farmers’ Market is maintaining a steady presence downtown

On a typical day, the Hamilton Farmers’ Market would be busy, full of people either drifting from stall to stall or marching down the aisles with purpose. The air would be filled with the sounds of cheerful chatter as regulars caught up with their favourite vendors or friends they ran into by chance. Established in 1837, the market is an important place of community for Hamilton and a steady constant throughout the city’s history.

“I think it’s one of the best things that Hamilton has to offer, right up there with waterfront escarpment, arts and culture and the music scene and all that . . . I would say that Hamilton Farmers’ Market [is one of] of the great assets of the city,” said Eric Miller, chair of the market’s board of directors.

“I think it’s one of the best things that Hamilton has to offer, right up there with waterfront escarpment, arts and culture and the music scene and all that . . . I would say that Hamilton Farmers’ Market [is one of] of the great assets of the city,” said Eric Miller, chair of the market’s board of directors.

However, the market has experienced some dramatic changes due to the pandemic. In March, they implemented the necessary public health measures, including wearing masks, social distancing protocols and hiring security to help control the flow of people. While these changes were necessary, it meant that all fronts of the market have been sharply impacted by the pandemic.

All vendors at the market were affected, though some more so than others. In terms of their operations specifically at the market, many were limited in what they could sell, especially during the early stages of the pandemic. Miller noted that in some cases these limitations were because of disruptions to the supply chain. Many farmers were unable to hire help to pick their harvests and florists in the region experienced interruptions to the system by which they exchange flowers. Vendors offering cheese and meats also faced supply challenges during the pandemic.

For other vendors, particularly those selling non-food items, they found there was little to no demand for their products. One such vendor is Saji Kollanthara’s Folk Art Prints, who sells hand-printed artisan items imported from India. 

Since the COVID [pandemic] started . . . people have no interest in buying anything other than food . . . So I waited for one week then I noticed that there is no point [in] opening the shop, because nobody’s buying it. Nobody [was] even looking at my place because they were invested only in food items and nothing of anything else, so I stopped going there after one week,” said Kollanthara, who closed his stall for three months during the pandemic.

Since the COVID [pandemic] started . . . people have no interest in buying anything other than food . . . So I waited for one week then I noticed that there is no point [in] opening the shop, because nobody’s buying it.”

While Kollanthara’s stall was only closed on a temporary basis, four other businesses, including Cake and Loaf and Jamaican Patty Shack, were forced to terminate their contract with the market during the pandemic. 

Additionally, immediately following the pandemic announcement, the market also saw a dramatic decrease in customers, by almost 75 per cent during stage one according to Miller. This is likely because customers were being encouraged to limit trips into the community or order online.

Furthermore, while the market itself was not closed at any point during the pandemic, customers’ ability to access the market was restricted. This was in part due to the closure of the Jackson Square entrance during Stage 1 and much of Stage 2, which is a primary entry point to the market. Many also relied on public transportation to attend the market and were understandably concerned about continuing to do so.

However, despite these difficulties, the market remains open and continues to persevere. While the numbers have not reached typical levels for this time of year, customers are slowly returning to the market. Some customers have commented to the market’s board of directors that they actually feel safer at the farmers’ market, as opposed to a larger supermarket.

However, despite these difficulties, the market remains open and continues to persevere.

Some current vendors, including Kollanthara, have also mentioned that while the pandemic brought many challenges, it also provided them with new opportunities, such as the time to learn how to develop and create an online platform for their business.

A couple of new businesses are even preparing to launch stalls at the market. The first, which opened in the market a few weeks ago, being Hotti Biscotti, a local, small-batch bakery. There are currently two other businesses in the process of setting up shop at the market.

“Two of them just presented to us at the last board meet on what they have to offer. So that’s exciting for us . . . I would say it boosts our spirit to have new vendors setting up shop,” said Miller.

While these are without doubt difficult times, there is comfort to be found in the steady presence and perseverance of the Hamilton Farmers’ Market. The market and its vendors have been present through all the storms that Hamilton has had to weather and by continuing to offer delicious food, fantastic flowers and charming crafts, they will help us weather this one as well.

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