PORT CARLING — If it’s called a farmers market it should have more produce. That was the consensus of market vendors and interested downtown Port Carling business owners who attended the public meeting to discuss the future plans of the Port Carling Farmers Market.
OPEN TO IDEAS.
OPEN TO IDEAS. Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce general manager Jane Templeton and event and tourism consultant Kailey Luker held a meeting last week with vendors, downtown merchants and other members of the public to discuss the Port Carling Farmers Market. Ideas on its mandate, location, jurying committee and marketing were all discussed.
In its first year, the market, organized by the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce, was approximately 30 per cent food, which also included edible items other than produce, and 70 per cent artisan. It drew an average of 500 people each Thursday, for a total of approximately 5,000 visitors over the season.
“I find it a little misleading to say farmers market and I expect to see farmers there and we only have one or two,” said vendor Gil Moore. “I don’t think it leaves a good feeling.”
Downtown Port Carling businesses heard similar complaints from their customers who had attended the market.
Part of the mandate of the Port Carling market was to give Muskoka vendors preference, but those from the immediate surrounding districts of Parry Sound, Haliburton and Simcoe County were also allowed. Produce that was available in July proved particularly hard to find either in Muskoka or the surrounding areas.
“One of the difficulties of the market is to get local homegrown produce,” explained Chamber of Commerce general manager Jane Templeton. “They just can’t afford to pay a person to come to the market to stand there and sell the produce, rent space from us, leave their farm, when all they have to do is put a little kiosk out at the end of their driveway.”
The amount of produce at a farmers market was deemed so important by those at the meeting that they agreed either the name should be changed to summer market or producers should be allowed to bring in produce from outside the local area, provided it carries a sign identifying it as such.
“The problem comes when the unsuspecting customer comes to the booth and thinks they’re buying local product,” said vendor Sandra Morandin. “As long as there’s an up front and the customer knows this is not locally grown … I have no problem with that. It’s just the honesty factor.”
The location of the market also raised some discussion. Although Hanna’s Park was thought to be a beautiful location, complete with a waterfront view, playground, picnic tables, washrooms and plenty of level space, it did not draw the crowds that a more visible downtown location would provide or the added bonus of foot traffic for downtown merchants.
Though one downtown business owner suggested downtown merchants rent out their available green space to vendors, thus spreading the market throughout the downtown, the chamber reminded everyone they could not get insurance on private property.
The only other answer was James Bartleman Island Park, a smaller, hilly location that has no available parking and would be difficult for vendors to access for unloading and loading their products. However, it is visible from the main thoroughfare through town and has plenty of boat parking available.
“If it’s on the main street, it will be an instant success. Where it is now, if that’s the only choice … it will be a long hard struggle,” said Moore. “If you let it go another year, what will be the number of vendors left at the end of the second year if the year is similar to the first year?”
“Do both,” suggested Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy. “Have Bartleman Park as the teaser with the more artisanal smaller things that are easier to transport, get the hoo-ha from that, the banners, that something’s happening in town and then direct folks down to Hanna’s Park for the bigger bulkier things.”
However, those in attendance felt there would not be enough vendors to spread out over two locations.
During the marketing portion of the evening, ideas were raised to help increase awareness of the current location of the market and what is available there. Strategically placed signs, contests, on-site demonstrations and a website listing the vendors and what they sell were all suggested.
It was thought that having coupons for downtown merchants available with a purchase at the farmers market and questionnaires for shoppers to fill out would also help solve some of the perceived problems.
The chamber will take all the ideas back to its board for consideration, although Templeton said it is probably too late in the year to make any major changes for the coming season.
Comments and concerns regarding the Port Carling Farmers Market can still be sent to the chamber’s event and tourism consultant Kailey Luker at email@example.com or by phoning 705-762-5663.
The Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce will be holding a similar meeting tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 4:30 p.m. for the Bala Summer Market at the Bala Community Centre. Neighbours, vendors, area merchants and other interested parties are all welcome to attend.