The Ottawa Street Farmers Market on Saturday is here to stay and there is no tension nor rift with the retailers and merchants in the Ottawa Street BIA.

Nica vanBeuzekom, co-owner of the Branching Path Farm, is of the view that an opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator on Feb. 27 paints an erroneous picture of vendors in conflict on Ottawa Street North.

I’m a regular customer at Branching Path, a small Simcoe based market garden and organic grower selling vegetables every Saturday from April to December. Today vanBeuzekom is wearing the hat of the new chair of the Crown Point Farmers’ Market of Ottawa Street Association Inc.

“The Ottawa Street BIA has no objection to the farmers market’s presence, and there is no question of the market moving to a different location,” she told the Point.

“I can’t speak to each individual merchant’s opinion, but I have never heard any merchant on Ottawa St or BIA Board member have anything negative to say about the market’s presence,” she adds.

vanBeuzekom also says there is no yearning among her fellow farmers to return to the Centre on Barton mall where they previously sold their produce for decades until 2008 when they had to leave that location.

Nika vanBeuzekom is co-owner of Branching Path Farms and the new chair of the Crown Point Farmers’ Market of Ottawa Street Association Inc. Photo courtesy of Branching Path..

Farmers’ markets are organically rooted in a specific space and time where customers know where to find them. 

That’s why there was an initial loss of business for the farmers after the move to Ottawa St, recalls Torrie Warner, the owner of Warner’s Farm. “A move never does a market good. Three or four blocks away but it took customers a long time to realize that we had moved to Ottawa Street.”

There is also a sense that Ottawa Street with its range of independent retailers represents a better fit for the operators of equally independent family farms.

Indeed, the big news is that the farmers in the market are committed to staying on Ottawa Street but in a more autonomous fashion. In a mutually agreed upon separation, the Ottawa St. BIA is no longer in charge of the farmers’ market.

Starting in February, the farmers are managing their market themselves through the already established Crown Point Farmers Market of Ottawa Street Association Inc., a registered corporation with its separate board of directors.

vanBeuzekom is the new chair of its board and Torrie Warner is the vice chair. Both farmers are working closely with BIA to help get things set up.

Farmers Market at the Centre Mall
Farmers Market at the Centre Mall opened in 1956 and closed in 2008.
Photo source The Hamilton Spectator.

They are volunteering their board time, as are the people who stepped forward each weekend in the summer to shepherd customers with hand sanitizers into the market to meet the public health requirements during the COVID- 19 emergency.

In addition, the farmers market has a paid market manager who works on contract in the Ottawa BIA office. 

The market was initially running its own affairs after vacating the Centre on Barton mall. In 2013 the BIA was forced to step in, take over the market. “At that time, the market was not being run very well. There were lots of things they struggled with, ” says vanBeuzekom, who was not selling produce in the market at that time.

Not all of the farmers were happy with being under the umbrella of the BIA. The decision was made with “the best of intentions” in terms of BIA having the resources and the administrative capacity which the farmers’ market lacked, says vanBeuzekom.

This year the farmers on Ottawa Street say they are better prepared to run their own market. vanBeuzekom is part of a newer group of farmers who appeared on Ottawa Street in the years since the takeover by the BIA and are keen to invest personal time and energy to build upon the success of their farmers’ market.

The sole source of income for the Ottawa Street Farmers’ Market are the fees for a stall at the market which range from $25 to $40 for the Saturday. depending upon the space desired.

File photo of Farmers' Market
The Ottawa Street Farmer’s Market is an outdoors market.

One area for concern for vanBeuzekom and her board is whether the market should operate during the winter.

The Ottawa Street farmers market is unique is that it is strictly an outdoors Saturday market. When the big move was made in 2008, there were about six farmers willing to sell products all year around. At that time the market was open three days in the week. 

Today, Warner’s Fruit is the only vender left in the market during the winter and it only shows up if the weather permits. 

What would rectify the problem is a covered farmers market similar to other such markets in southern Ontario. Indeed, a 2015 a city planning document came out with such proposal before the BIA but it was never pursued.

The Ottawa Street Farmers market itself doesn’t have the revenue to set up one on its own, says vanBeuzekom.

“I think (the covered farmers markets depicted in the 2015 study) looks beautiful. There are some great ideas but if you look at the price tags on those proposals, three different ideas of what could be done. You are looking at 200 to 300 thousand dollars. “

Artist's impression of a covered market.
One option depicted for covered Ottawa Street Farmers’ Market.
Source The City of Hamilton.

The farmers market is recruiting new vendors, including a new meat seller since the retirement of Teal’s Meats which during its tenure also operated year-round.

The other standby outside in the cold months at the market was Brian Novak who sold vegetables he kept and preserved in storage. His passing away last fall left “a big hole,” says vanBeuzekom.

What also distinguishes this market from its larger counterpart downtown is the preponderance of real farmers.

All of the food sold at the market is local. Sixty per cent of the vendors at the Ottawa Street market are primary producers involved in providing either dairy, eggs, meat or vegetables. Three quarters of their products must come from their farm while the remaining quarter can be sourced from neighbouring farms with their origins clearly labelled. 

The remaining 40 per cent of market vendors comprise secondary producers selling baked goods, soap makers or artisan products.  

Finally, all of the farmers have operations within 100 kilometres of the Ottawa Street farmers’ market. Branching Path is located about 90 kilometres from the market.

vanBeuzekom and her partner used to live in the Crown Point neighbourhood before they recently purchased their farm. They remain committed to serving local customers. “We love Hamilton. It is where we got our start, ” she says.

Nobody on the street questions the value of having the farmers there on Saturday, contrary to the message in the article in the Spectator, concludes vanBeuzekom. “Anecdotally, many of our customers say that they shop on Ottawa Street because they come to the market.”

Updated: Melanie Anderson, the chair of the Ottawa St. BIA and proprietor of the Painted Bench described what is happening between the BIA and the farmers market as “a passing of the baton.” The two women, Anderson and vanBeuzekom are working together on an amicable transition. “There was no issue (between us). The article in the Spectator made it as if something was going on when it wasn’t… It was an opinion piece and everyone can have their own opinion. It was disappointing that (the author of the piece) didn’t get all of the sides,” says Anderson.