Aurora’s Farmers’ Market became a template for GTA

·5 min read

The Aurora Farmers’ Market had a late start this spring due to uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but did they ever make up for lost time. As the Market wound down on Hallowe’en, they were looking back on a season of firsts – and some impressive numbers.

Last year, the Aurora Farmers’ Market, which runs each Saturday morning from May through October, welcomed 13,493 visitors to Town Park. This year, they logged a staggering 18,306.

“At the beginning of each Market day, I would get my team of volunteers together – we had 32 volunteers that helped us over the course of 24 Market days – and say, ‘This is probably going to be the last day that we’re allowed to be running, so make it a good one,’” recalls Market Manager Anna Kroeplin. “Every week we had tally sheets at the dedicated entrance (on Larmont Street) and at Wells Street as well, and we would count every single person in and out at 15-minute increments.

“At the beginning, we were only allowed 32 people in and we had 13 vendors. Once the Market Board started talking more and more to Public Health and Farmers’ Markets Ontario, restrictions were lifted and they based it on our square footage of where customers would actually be.”

It turned out to be a winning system this year, and one other municipalities looked to when trying to get their own markets up off the ground.

“In March, there was a state of emergency and then in April they closed the schools and businesses, but it was incredibly important that the Government deemed Farmers’ Markets essential services,” says Ms. Kroeplin. “That was able to help the Board pre-plan and be ready. They got in touch with York Region Public Health, the Town of Aurora and Farmers’ Markets Ontario to get all of their approvals – and they did so we could set up on May 23. We were only a couple of weeks out of our normal season to start. I was so pleased that the Farmers’ Market was deemed safe. We actually had so many people come and we had about 99 per cent of people wear masks. It was mandatory for vendors to wear their masks or face shields, but everybody wore masks and felt so comfortable and safe there.

“What really surprised me and blew me away is that other towns got in touch with us and either their staff or their market managers came to the Market after the first three weeks because we had built some great reputation that they wanted to model the Market after them. The biggest one was the City of Toronto.”

Having that “incredible exposure” to new customers really helped the Aurora Farmers’ Market reach such impressive numbers, with each customer being respectful of one another and exercising patience while waiting in line to get in.

Helping them to pass the time before they could get in to buy their fresh fruits and veggies, baked goods and artisan crafts were space markers drawn out on the pavement in chalk to not only promote social distance but put smiles on faces.

Volunteers drew smiley faces instead of simple circles more than two metres apart. Once things were deemed safe enough to allow students in to volunteer and collect their community service hours, these markers started to get a bit crafty.

“We started with 13 adult volunteers because of the health risk at the beginning of the season,” says Ms. Kroeplin. “We weren’t comfortable having students there until we started proving our safety measures were incredibly important. [In the end] we had 19 students come to get their hours an they came from Aurora, Pickering, Sutton, and it was just crazy because there weren’t a lot of opportunities for these kids to earn heir hours. What I found interesting this year is the majority of the time parents would come with their child the first day they were on shift and I would make sure they had my phone number and the parents felt safe leaving their kids there. In all, they earned a total of 939 hours.”

Although the Aurora Farmers’ Market’s outdoor season has come to a close, there will still be a few more chances to meet market vendors in the lead-up to the holiday season.

On December 5 and 12, many Market favourites will be on hand for the Town’s annual Christmas Market, which will be held at Town Park for the first time this year, a perfect opportunity to shop local as the holiday season approaches.

“A lot of Towns didn’t support their markets, so they stayed closed or they did not open long,” says Cathy Williams, Board Chair for the Aurora Farmers Market. “Aurora supported us, made sure things went well for us, gave us volunteers from their staff, and they wanted us to open, which was just really good. When our numbers started going up and we had lineups and the vendors were coming to us to say they were sold out, I thought, ‘You know what? This is going to work.’

“I would like to thank the Town for being so supportive. I would like to thank the volunteers for being so wonderful and for helping out so much – and the Board of the Market for working so hard to get it open, for Public Health being behind us, and for the people of Aurora for coming out and supporting us.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran