Pandemic turned little Komoka farmers' market into a giant

·3 min read

In 2018, a Middlesex County high school teacher came up with a simple idea, to create a place where area farmers could sell their home-grown produce to neighbours.

What Amy Watt didn't expect, however, was to wind up creating one of the largest farmers' markets in the region, drawing nearly 1,000 people from west London and surrounding counties to the small community of Komoka every Saturday.

"I did not think it would pan out this way at all," said Watt, who started the Komoka Community Market with her husband in 2018.

"COVID really made people excited about it, and it's so rewarding to see vendors do well," she said, of its growth. "A number of businesses and even a couple of farms have started because of the market and are succeeding because of it."

Watt, who grew up on her family vegetable farm in Lambton County, sold produce at area farmers' markets in her mid-20s but became discouraged by the surprisingly high number of vendors who resold products bought elsewhere.

"In fact," she said, "the most successful vegetable vendor at one of the markets I was at would go to the food terminal in the morning, pick up her produce and sell beside me. I was just from down the road, yet she had a flashy stand, a lot of employees and sold produce that wasn't her own." Meanwhile, most customers weren't even aware, Watt added.

The first two years of the Komoka market were fairly slow, with between 12 and 16 vendors every week.

Then, in 2020, when small business owners were scrambling to survive, the little Komoka market grew into something bigger than what organizers ever imagined, said Stephanie Durnin, who oversees marketing and events for the market.

"Our market grew exponentially during COVID," she said. "It became a spot where people who weren't allowed to see friends and neighbours could appropriately distance" and "enjoy a little shopping."

Enter Bill Lamont, a Mt. Brydges farmer who started selling natural and organic grass-fed beef and chicken at the market three years ago.

After switching from a nearby market to Komoka, he saw an uptick in sales and interest in his organic products. "We immediately noticed we were selling more product," said Lamont of Glengyle Farm Organics.

"A lot of people may not necessarily buy anything right that day, but they're intrigued when they learn the farm is that close by, and a lot of people are interested in coming out and visiting."

A passion project-turned business, the outdoor market is now home to up to 50 vendors on Saturdays, with a total of 90 throughout the year.

Applications for a booth at the market came flooding in during the last two years, forcing organizers to turn a handful away. Staying true to their values of sustainability and supporting local growers, the team has set criteria to prioritize agriculture and ensure vendors sell home-grown products.

"We want the money to stay in the community where we live," Durnin said. "This is stuff that has been made in your neighbours' workshops or grown in the field that you drive by on your way home from work."

Durnin, Watt and her husband aren't the only ones running what's now become a hub for the growing community of nearly 2,000. Watt's four young kids help, too.

"It's a full family affair," Watt said with a smile, adding the market grounds are becoming more like a second home for the kids.

Asked what items patrons can find at the market, her eight-year-old son Asher chimed in. "Baked goods," he said, confidently.

That, along with fruits and vegetables, cheese, meat, honey, flowers, crafts, and wine, are among the items visitors can buy at the outdoor market, located at 1 Tunks Road in Komoka, from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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