Farmer calls city plan to rejuvenate ByWard Market a 'quick fix'

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Farmer calls city plan to rejuvenate ByWard Market a 'quick fix'

A farmer whose family has sold produce in the ByWard Market for generations calls the city's plan to make the Ottawa landmark profitable again a "quick fix," and he believes resellers will continue to keep local farmers away.

Gerry Rochon began selling fruit and vegetables from his family farm in the ByWard Market 55 years ago, helping his parents at their booth. 

"I was pretty well raised on the ByWard Market. It's dear to my heart. My parents went there. My grandfather had a booth down there," Rochon told interim host Hallie Cotnam on CBC's Ottawa Morning.

It was the "place to be" for local farmers back then, but he laments the market's glory days are well behind it.

"It's almost like a ghost town today, unfortunately," he said. "You walk down the street and see empty booths, and it breaks your heart to see that the farmers are not coming back to ByWard Market."

City of Ottawa staff are proposing the city hand over management of the ByWard and Parkdale markets to a newly-formed, not-for-profit municipal services corporation by 2018, in order to reverse declining revenues and attract new vendors.

'Quick fix'

Rochon believes a new direction is needed as current vendors retire, but said any new corporation formed to address the market's issues requires a clear vision.

"It's a quick fix. It will not alleviate the problem that's down there right now. There's multiple problems, it's not just one," he said. "But one of the biggest problems is it has to come back down to what do they want to do with the farmer's market, exactly?"

The biggest problem is produce resellers undercutting local farmers at booths in the ByWard Market, according to Rochon.

"They buy from anywhere at the cheapest price, and resell it. And any new farmer that tries to come in — and some have tried to come in and sell at the Byward Market — have to compete with Mexico, China, Chile, wherever the product comes from, and we can't," he said.

While signs above market booths say "local," Rochon doesn't believe that's policed enough, and he wants the city and this proposed new corporation to take that more seriously going forward.

"If I wasn't established, it would be very tough. It would be very hard to make a living down there," he added.