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A Brief History of Farmers' Markets


FARMERS' MARKETS OVER THE YEARS


The history of farmers' markets dates back to ancient times. In many cultures, farmers would bring their crops to the town centre or marketplace to sell directly to consumers.


In Europe, the first recorded farmers' market was in the 11th century in the French city of Troyes. By the 12th century, farmers' markets had become common throughout Europe, providing a way for rural farmers to sell their goods in urban areas.


Farmer in a field

In North America, farmers' markets have been around since colonial times. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, farmers would sell their produce directly to consumers from horse-drawn wagons. However, the rise of industrialization and large-scale agriculture led to a decline in farmers' markets.

A crop being harvested with modern mechanical equipment.

In the 1970s, farmers' markets began to experience a revival as consumers became more interested in locally-grown and organic produce. Today, there are thousands of farmers' markets across Canada and the United States, ranging from small neighbourhood markets to large, regional events. In modern times, farmers' markets continue to play an important role in promoting sustainable agriculture, supporting local farmers, and providing access to fresh, healthy food.


The Aberfoyle Farmers’ Market is proud to be one of those markets! Its history dates back more than a decade. What began as a budding idea, eventually flourished into a vibrant community hub at the heart of the Township. It’s story began when the concept of a local farmers’ market was submitted as one of the multi uses envisioned for a central recreational facility bidding for government funding in the mid-to-late 2000s. In 2009, it was announced that the Township was successful in securing both federal and provincial grant monies as part of the communities component of the Building Canada Fund to construct the Multi-Use Recreational Facility, now known as the Optimist Recreation Centre.


In June of 2010, at the hands of a dedicated group of community volunteers, the Aberfoyle Farmers’ Market was officially established as a Not-for-Profit corporation. The market welcomed visitors for the first time in May of 2011, and further rooted itself in the community by signing a 5-year lease agreement with the Township upon the the completion the Optimist Recreation Centre in 2012. The market gradually gained popularity amongst customers and vendors over the years following. A core group of vendors selling local products like honey, pasture raised meats, and seasonal produce, grew to become “one of the best” markets in Canada in 2016.


As the seasons went on, special events began drawing in visitors from surrounding cities. Vendors came and went, with the market acting as an incubator of sorts for small business to establish themselves in the community, but a select few never wavered - The Burrs and the Bees, Vandenbroek’s Family Farm, Warner Orchards. These familiar faces would welcome residents back each week, as the market became a staple for many in their Saturday morning plans. It has always been more than a just local outlet for farm-fresh foods; it’s a chat with neighbours over a cup of fair-trade coffee, meeting new friends, and an overwhelming sense of community. By 2019, the market was seeing record visitor counts and increased demand from local vendors for stall space. The market was thriving!


IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON FARMERS’ MARKETS

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on farmers' markets. In the early days of the pandemic, many farmers' markets were forced to shut down due to concerns about the spread of the virus.


However, as the pandemic continued, farmers' markets were deemed essential businesses in many areas and were allowed to reopen with new safety measures in place. These safety measures included increased spacing between vendors, mandatory mask-wearing, and hand sanitizer stations. In some cases, farmers' markets also transitioned to online or pre-order systems, where customers could place orders ahead of time and pick up their items at the market without having to interact with vendors or other customers.

Despite these challenges, many farmers' markets were able to continue operating during the pandemic and even saw an increase in demand for locally-grown produce as consumers became more interested in supporting local agriculture and ensuring a reliable food supply.


A woman looking at vegetables while shopping at an outdoor farmers' market.
Shopping at a local market during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sadly, for the Aberfoyle Farmers’ Market, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 halted this growth, like it did for many small businesses throughout the province. Government mandates and public health restrictions prevented the market from opening as planned in May 2020, and the organizing committee made the difficult decision not to operate for the season. This was a turning point for the market, with a number of long-time vendors choosing to step back in a form of semi-retirement or pivot their sales channels to include farm gate stands.

Determined to keep the market alive in the post-pandemic economy, the organizing committee made significant modifications to the market’s operations with respect to the health & safety protocols, and once again we opened the market’s doors to the public in 2021. As COVID restrictions began to ease in parallel with vaccine roll-outs, the market began its process of rebuilding. By the end of the 2021 season, the market experienced its highest number of visitors in a single day, ever. The numbers continued to grow from there, with the 2022 season wrapping up with record-setting attendance once again, giving an optimistic outlook for future seasons ahead!



CONTRIBUTE TO THE ONGOING SUCCESS OF YOUR LOCAL MARKET

What do future seasons have in store at the Aberfoyle Farmers' Market? Only time will tell, but as a community-run market, it is your contributions that will help ensure the market continues to thrive for years to come. Visit, vend, volunteer ... or just drop a line to share your visions of what you'd like to see at the market. Get in touch today!

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