Farmers' Market struggles in move back to Lansdowne

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Laura Robin, Ottawa Citizen

Lansdowne Report Card: FARMERS’ MARKET

Grade: C+

WHAT’S WORKING:

  • The farmers. They’re working really hard and overcoming big obstacles to bring their produce to the city, and setting up attractive stalls in spite of the hassles (like nowhere for them to store things or park nearby.)
  • It’s a fabulous new opportunity for the market to operate year round, inside the Aberdeen Pavilion in winter. It opened again Sunday, Jan. 10, and will open each Sunday, right through to next year’s Christmas market.
  • The outdoor area has some upsides compared to previous sites, such as good drainage.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT:

  • The city and OSEG need to treat Ottawa Farmers’ Market as a valuable asset, not an afterthought. By spring, the city should provide the outdoor amenities it promised.
  • OSEG should not mess with market hours, as it has in the past.
  • Free parking should be offered for market customers, at least for a limited time.
  • Signs on Bank Street and the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, and in the underground garage, should remind people about the market and how to get to it.
  • A welcoming, shaded spot should be created for pausing and picnicking near the market.
  • Consideration should be given to making the Aberdeen Pavilion the market’s exclusive home, with permanent stalls, like Montreal’s Atwater and Toronto’s St. Lawrence, with a big enough range of products that it’s a one-stop shopping and tourist draw.
  • If Loblaws can sell Labatts, Ottawa’s farmers market should be allowed to showcase Ottawa’s exceptional craft beer scene.

Like a particularly hardy crop of kale, it seems that Ottawa Farmers’ Market will survive, though it was uprooted — twice — for the Lansdowne Park redevelopment.

The transplant back to Lansdowne was unquestionably difficult, though, with wilting sales, at least one lost livelihood and even some sacrificial pigs and lambs.

The Ottawa Farmers’ Market is now a year-round operation, with tables inside the Aberdeen Pavilion in winter. LOUIS BRUNET

“It’s a year I wouldn’t want to live through again,” admits Andy Terauds, president of the farmers market.

While the market had blossomed during its two-year temporary stay at Brewer Park, for many, the move back to Lansdowne was catastrophic.

Barbara Schaefer of Upper Canada Heritage Farm, says her sales of her heritage pork plummeted nearly 40 per cent in 2015 over 2014.

Rosemary Kralik of Lanark’s Tiraislin Fold says that while she sold as much as $600 to $700 of yak, Highland cattle and lamb meat in a day at Brewer Park, on her lowest day at Lansdowne she took home just $28.

“The rottenest day at Brewer was better than the best day at Lansdowne.”

Torrie Warner, the Beamsville farmer who drives 1,100 kilometres each weekend to bring Niagara peaches, plums and pears to Ottawa, says his sales dropped 60 per cent at the start of the first season back at Lansdowne.

“I used to bring my 24-foot truck, but now I bring a 16-foot one and I still bring home skids of fruit.”

Ida Vaillancourt of Pork of Yore, north of Ottawa, saw her sales drop so drastically, she sold nearly 100 piglets that she had intended to take to market.

One sheep farmer threw in the towel altogether, sold her assets and began looking for new work.

Not all vendors were hit so severely. Meat seems to be a particularly hard sell on the new site: “Nobody wants to put a frozen pork chop in their pocket and watch a soccer game,” notes Vaillancourt.

Marion Stanley adjusts her stained glass display during the grand opening of the Ottawa Farmers’ Christmas Market held at the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park on November 30, 2014. JANA CHYTILOVA / THE OTTAWA CITIZEN

Terauds says his vegetable sales held steady, Don Henderson of The Salty Don says his smoked spices sold as well as at Brewer, and Colleen Forer says sales of her Yummy Cookies actually increased at the new site. And most say that things improved as the first season back at Lansdowne progressed.

But nearly everyone agrees that there were huge initial problems with the new site at Lansdowne, and there is still much that needs to be improved if the market is to flourish.

“My friends tease me that I’m the farmers market maniac,” says Kathryn Trevenen, a University of Ottawa professor and mother of two-year-old twins. “I’ve been going to the market since I moved to Ottawa 10 years ago. I’d take a picnic blanket and make a day of it. It was part of my social life and part of my politics in terms of trying to eat local.

“Now, though, it feels like the concrete jungle version of a farmers market. I’ll still go — I love the farmers — but it’s no longer a fun social event. I go get my produce and I leave.”

Parking is problem No. 1.

People were used to parking for free, and above ground, to get their groceries. Now, if you’re not lucky enough to get one of the few above-ground spots (and not get a $50 ticket, as Trevenen did for being 10 minutes late back to her car), your choices are to search for a spot farther afield in the crowded Glebe, or go underground. And, while rates were dropped in the first month, the perception lingers that the underground parking is expensive (in fact it’s $1.50 per half hour; free for a while if you shop at Whole Foods or the LCBO.)

It’s also confusing and not well marked.

“Navigating the underground parking at Lansdowne is like trying to find your way out of one of those cornfield mazes,” says retired journalist and keen cook Peter Calamai. “The overhead signage gives far more prominence to the commercial tenants than to the location of the exits.”

Ottawa Farmers’ Market president and vendor Andy Terauds at the market’s outdoor site. ANAIS LYNN VOSKI / OTTAWA CITIZEN

For potential customers, the market area also lacks visibility from surrounding streets. For those who do come, it lacks comfortable, shady spots to sit and eat or drink.

For vendors, it lacks many important amenities that were promised by the City of Ottawa, such as underground wiring for electric outlets (instead of a mess of wires for customers to step over), anchors for their tents and a closed roadway in front of the theatres that was meant to provide 40 per cent more space for outdoor stalls and a more relaxed ambience.

“Having the year-round base of the Cattle Castle and Aberdeen Square beside it are the kind of spaces any city would like to have to establish an international-calibre farmers market,” says Terauds. “We’re the only truly local attraction at Lansdowne. I only wish that the things that were promised would be put in place.”

Still, many are optimistic that the problems will be solved and Ottawa’s farmers market will once again become the jewel of a city that has more farms within its boundaries than Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary combined.

“To me, it will all work out,” says Henderson. “Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group is going to see that we’re the ones who are going to bring back the people who hate them.”