This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s food production community—what it’s like now and where it’s heading. Read on for a guest post from Chris Penton on Farmers’ Markets, or read Jeremy Colbeck on sustainable farming co-ops, Steve Beauchesne on craft beer, or Francis Bueckert on local coffee roasting.
Chris Penton is the President of the Beechwood Market. He has been involved with farmers’ markets in Ottawa for over ten years. He is a proud single father of a helpful 11 year old son, an avid runner and foolishly ran to be a City Councillor in 2019. Follow the Beechwood Market on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Apt613: What is the current landscape of farmers’ markets in Ottawa?
Chris Penton: Farmers’ markets are fairly spread out across Ottawa. But, like many businesses, the clusters tend to follow the population. There is no real association, which can result in challenging negotiations with the City and other regulatory bodies. That said, everyone loves farmers’ markets and they are welcomed with open arms in the communities in which they exist.
The overall landscape is a happy one. I would offer that more vendors are now needed to furnish the growing number of markets.
Vendors need to be a fit with a new market as much as the market needs to be a fit for them. The Beechwood Market loves its small, hungry businesses. We’ve seen many go on to open up brick-and-mortar stores, online operations, or spin off into a catering company.
If you care to make a prediction… Where is 2021 going for farmers’ markets in Ottawa?
Our on-site market opens June 5. Because of the regulations, it will be a scaled-down version. Regardless, I am confident customers will attend. People want to get outside. They need to. This is the most COVID-safe shopping they’ll do.
I have many vendors that sell at other markets across the city. Their reports of other markets are pretty similar.
In the case of Beechwood, we offer the mix of our online market and on-site operation. A winning combination, so we expect a good swamping this season.
Where in your wildest dreams could the Beechwood Market grow in your lifetime?
I hope my lifetime is long enough to offer up this opinion!
I developed a “Park Market” model two years ago for the City’s consumption. The idea is to duplicate what we have done in Beechwood and transplant that concept into (first) urban city parks moving west from our end of town. Play structure, live music, community table, coffee, breakfast, washrooms, people will come Ray!
Although the City didn’t share our vision, it is already happening organically. For example, I am working with residents on the intro of a new market on Elgin Street.
My dream is to have a dozen smaller Park Markets in neighbourhoods across the city. Supported by a strong local food structure, those neighbourhoods would thrive, promote healthy living and move us towards the much-coveted 15 minute neighbourhood.
What is the best innovation to take place for farmers’ markets since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?
E-commerce. Pretty standard: people browse, choose, order, receive.
The online version of the Beechwood Market is only going to grow. We are already delivering across the city and have two pickup points. Although not your standard understanding of a market, it is the recreation. Easy, reliable and cost-effective, it bolsters small businesses and gets local food to citizens.
I know a few other vendor groups, not necessarily markets themselves, have grouped together to do something similar.
We made the move last June and it’s been a fun curve. Successful.
Who is the future of farmers’ markets in Ottawa?
The future of farmers’ markets in Ottawa belongs to those that are willing to grab innovation by the horns. I have seen markets try to do things as they were done five years ago. It hasn’t always gone well.
Markets must also become destinations. A focal point for neighbourhoods. At the Beechwood Market, we started as a community effort; a place to gather, hang out. We’ve continued with that as a guiding philosophy.
Finally, the City must be more supportive of farmers’ markets. At the moment there is little to none. We are essentially food distributors. Way more sexy, of course, but we get get local food out to the public, connect our rural and urban cousins, and truly support the local economy.
Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career at the market.
This thing called COVID will hit ya in 10 years. It will turn the world around and be a challenging period, but it will also wake many of you up. COVID aside—be sure to groom someone early on to take over.
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.