It’s been a tough two years for farmers’ markets across the province. Not only has the pandemic affected businesses, but multiple weekend storms in early 2022 have pushed many to the brink.
At the Truro Farmers’ Market, which operates one day a week on Saturday mornings, this resulted in a loss of revenue of nearly $10,000.
“We had to completely cancel several Saturday markets,” says Market Manager Margaret Ells.
“We had all the storms they predicted, and they all seemed to come on Friday nights and Saturdays.”
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Ells says the nonprofit co-op only sees about half the number of guests it would have before the pandemic, adding that it gets most of its income from vendor fees. She says it was a big pressure not to have money coming in and the bills piling up.
“We were really struggling to meet all of our financial obligations. Expenses like our salaries, operating expenses, construction expenses,” she says.
“I don’t think we ever thought, ‘Oh, we might not make it’, but oh my God, we were burning up all the extra profits.”
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Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets Association executive director Justin Cantafio said markets across the province are facing similar situations.
“In March, it became very apparent that a number of our year-round farmers’ markets were in very dire financial straits,” he told Global News.
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“Many were running in the red, running out of lines of credit – really not in an efficient situation, where the money should be invested in expanding local food infrastructure. Instead, they were just treading water and trying to keep the lights on.
Last month, the association approached the provincial government, asking for a financial stimulus of $100,000. Cantafio says the money would be split between the markets to cover the costs caused by the storms.
“Whenever a sector is hit hard by storms or financial burdens, the government usually steps in and provides recovery funds,” Cantafio says.
“That’s all this request is, just one-time emergency funding to right the ship and get farmers markets back on their feet.”
However, the request for funding was refused.
“The department provides funds to Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets on various fronts and insurance against damage and/or storms and its costs are a private sector matter and we don’t,” the minister said. Nova Scotia Agriculture Greg Morrow asked about the decision during question period on Tuesday.
“Over the past two years, the Department of Agriculture has provided $165,000 in support programs for farmers’ markets.
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During the Wolfville Farmers’ Market Cooperative weekend, four weeks of revenue was lost due to winter storms, resulting in a $17,000 deficit. Executive director Kelly Marie Redcliffe said the money was ‘not recoverable’.
“And while we can budget to recover that over about four years, that means that’s money we’ll be paying, thanks to having to use our line of credit and money that we can’t. use to invest in the development of the local food system that our communities will rely on long into the future,” she said in an email.
“I realize that farmers’ markets have received support during the pandemic, and I am grateful for that, however, these storms, at this time, are devastating for our co-op, already under the pressure of two very difficult years.”
Cantafio says he’s hugely grateful for the province’s support so far, saying farmers’ markets wouldn’t be as thriving today without him, but worries that not having that extra money will have devastating effects on some markets.
“To be honest and without fearmongering, some run the risk of shutting down if it’s not something they can recover from,” he says.
“We need to put more local infrastructure and more local food in the hands of Nova Scotians, not less. So that’s, I think, a wise and relatively small request that we have, and we just hope that we can work with the province on that.
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