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By Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture:

"Canada: "St. Jacobs Farmers Market fire a loss for Ontario agriculture"

Local agriculture suffered a devastating loss this month, with a major fire at Ontario’s St. Jacobs Farmers Market. The market’s main food building – which opened in the late 1980s and housed nearly 70 businesses – burned to the ground early in the morning on September 2, 2013.

The St. Jacobs market is Canada’s largest year-round farmers market. Often up to 150 vendors are at the market, representing a range of businesses from traditional farm commodities to boutique offerings. The market plays an integral role in connecting local farmers with local consumers. It also provides consumers access to local food, and contributes to forming valuable relationships between consumers and farm families.

Farmers markets play a key role in education too. They provide opportunities for consumers of all ages to discuss food production and preparation with the farmers who grow the food. Vendors at many farmers markets may also offer lesser-known varieties of heirloom vegetables and animal breeds, which can add further value to consumers looking to add another dimension to their local food repertoire. The St. Jacobs Farmers Market is widely recognized for its impressive array of Ontario produce.

The local food, tourism, artisans and other businesses associated with the St. Jacobs Farmers Market are significant economic drivers for the Waterloo Region. Losing access to these businesses will impact many in the area who rely on traffic and economic contributions from the businesses affected.

For farmers at the market, the fire comes at a crucial time when fresh produce such as peaches, tomatoes, peppers and other fruits and vegetables are at their peak during the busy harvest season. Fortunately, market administrators report that consumers will continue to have an opportunity to support the many vendors at the market. The outdoor portion of the market and the building known as Peddlar’s Village will be open for business as early as September 5, 2013. Consumer support will be key to helping vendors move produce and get back to business.

Some vendors who have alternative business locations are providing location information to consumers, and are hopeful they will see continued support from their established customer base. The market has already announced plans to rebuild as quickly as possible, and the Township of Woolwich has pledged to work with the community and the owners to help re-establish the market as soon as possible.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) extends its sympathies to the businesses affected by the fire at St. Jacobs Farmers Market. The exceptional outpouring of support from the local community and in online forums such as social media is a testament to the bonds formed between consumers who are committed to local food, and the vendors in attendance at the market each week. OFA encourages Ontario consumers to help our neighbours in this time of need.

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