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Owen Sound Farmers' Market

Local Produce and Much More

Last updated: Dec 07, 2022

Owen Sound is widely regarded as a particularly vibrant community – a great place to live, learn, work, create, listen, play, and retire! While too many vulnerable residents have not shared equitably in this prosperity, they have strong advocates across the community who work passionately to enhance their inclusion, and that’s exemplary too. This enviable status is the direct result of the combination of a number of building blocks that engaged citizens have put in place and reinforced over many years. High on that list of outstanding contributors is the Owen Sound Farmers Market. And it’s been doing so for over 150 years.

In 1868, after decades of informal gatherings, Owen Sound became home to one of the first organized, regularly recurring farmers’ market in Ontario. Located on the ground floor of the then new Town Hall it was a key gathering point for the community as the central place for farmers to sell and consumers to buy fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products on a seasonal basis. An equally important benefit was the face-to-face, personal social interaction, and information sharing that occurred each Saturday morning in an era before electronic communication of any kind.

Imagine the bustling scene at Town Hall on any Saturday morning in the late 1800s and early 1900s - rain, snow or shine. Horses and wagons are lined up around the marketplace in all directions; farmers and their families sell or barter their produce to “Townies” and to each other; friendships are renewed; news and gossip is shared; kids frolic; and teenagers get to know each other. Only Sunday church services at “Salvation Corners” rivalled and reinforced the social importance
of these weekly gatherings. Food for the belly then food for the soul.

Now fast forward to 2022. Perhaps the famous phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same” sums things up best. Certainly there has been lots of change. The Farmers Market is now year round. Since 1936 it has been housed in an historic building which was recently renovated. Horses and wagons have given way to cars and trucks. A wide variety of non agricultural products and are now available – all the way from cookies and candies to handmade arts and crafts, jewelry, books, toys knitting and artistic health and herbal products. Music is a constant. And vendors, consumers and visitors alike now make full use of electronic communications of all kinds.

But for all of this “progress”, the fundamentals persist. Farmers still bring their products to the Market, including vegetables and berries in the summer; apples and pumpkins in autumn; and meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products at every gathering. If anything the deemed value of such transactions to farmers and consumers has increased over the years. Farmers save money relative to selling to wholesalers and pass these savings onto buyers; and they appreciate being paid quickly and directly. Consumers value the freshness, choice and person-to-person connection and the opportunity to “put a face on their food” and ask questions about how it was grown or raised. This applies particularly to young residents who demonstrably are more aware and supportive of the reduced carbon footprint, associated with their locally sourced Market purchases. They care about the environment, the cost of fuel to ship products, and chemicals being used.

Similar personal considerations apply to other Market purchases. For example, buyers can speak with an artisan and get details of how that one-of-a-kind item was made so when it is gifted, there’s a story that goes along with the future heirloom.

Before taking a more intimate look at the many enticing aspects of today’s Owen Sound Farmers’ markets, lets look a bit at the bigger picture. According to Farmers’ Markets Ontario, which represents farmers markets across the province, over the past 10 years, farmers markets sales in Ontario have increased 10 – 12% annually to about $800 million per year with an economic impact of over $2.5 billion. The current total of more than 180 Ontario farmers markets greatly exceeds the only 60 such venues that were struggling to remain afloat in the 1980s when shopping malls were in ascendance. Now it’s malls, not farmers markets that are floundering.

This is clear evidence that farmers markets have found their niche as highly effective sales outlets for agricultural and other products across our province. Something that Owen Sound has known for over 150 years is now catching on! It’s increasingly realized that farmers markets play a vital role in enabling producers and consumers to come together in a dynamic commerce experience that combines economic exchange with social relationships. For the vendor, whether producer, artisan or baker, farmers markets offer an opportunity to improve net revenues; consumer benefits from the choice, high quality, and sometimes uniqueness of their purchases. And all enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the relaxed but yet energetic social atmosphere that is at the core of the farmers market experience.

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