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Farmers market return to Cottonwood Park brings questions

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
June 1st, 2021

A possible return of the Nelson Farmer’s Market to Baker Street on Wednesday and the future role of founding organization West Kootenay EcoSociety are questions left unanswered as the new market season has begun.

Although the market had a late start to the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 outbreak last year, it still managed to move ahead and host 37 markets overall by the time the season ended in late fall, said market manager Jordan Martin in an online report to city council recently.

The market is now under control of the city through the Nelson and District Youth Centre and, as a result, had to report on the preceding season — the first under youth centre leadership.

Before city involvement the market was facing a setback early in its 2020 inception, partly due to a shortfall in funding from groups like the City of Nelson in the early stages of the pandemic.

However, when the municipality grabbed the reins of the organization of the market from the West Kootenay EcoSociety (WKE) — who had developed and operated the market for nearly 20 years — it left some questions.

The WKE had raised funds through vendor fees, donations, sponsorships and small grants to build the markets — both on Saturday and a downtown venue on Wednesday.

Coun. Rik Logtenberg said the city had not given the WKE enough credit for bringing the markets up to where they are today, or had the discussion about what their role was going forward.

“It was left as an open question about what their role is,” he asked Martin during the council meeting. “I think we left everybody, including the West Kootenay EcoSociety, under the impression, that it was still open.”

City manager Kevin Cormack interjected and said it wasn’t her question to answer, that it was more of a discussion council needed to have.

“I haven’t heard anything from the EcoSociety since that time, so certainly we can reach out to them and ask them. But I think that is more of a council discussion,” he said.

“I feel it is a loose end and we need to have that discussion,” Logtenberg noted.

When the city took over management of the market it chalked the decision up as another casualty of COVID-19, citing mounting “significant” revenue losses and not being in a position to provide additional funding to community groups, including a substantial new grant to the EcoSociety.

The city said discussions with the EcoSociety for a workable solution to the funding shortfall failed when WKE related they were not able to run the markets last year without substantial new grants from the city, regional directors, Columbia Basin Trust and additional donations from the community.

“The EcoSociety also indicated … that they would have only been able to run the markets until they ran out money, which also would not have been a good outcome for the vendors or the community,” said city communications coordinator Ginger Lester in a press release at the time.

Last year WKE executive director Montana Burgess said the EcoSociety was not part of the decision to turn the market management over to the youth centre.

Instead of granting the EcoSociety the money to run the market the city allocated $7,000 to their youth centre to run the markets. Burgess said the city had asked the RDCK area directors to send the financial support they committed to EcoSociety’s markets to the city.

Wednesday woes

The decision was also made last year to move the Wednesday downtown market to the Cottonwood market site, a move which saw vendor enrolment drop off as crowds dwindled under COVID-19 restrictions.

Part of the impetus of moving the market off Baker Street was to deal with the social distancing challenges in that area, Martin explained.

She said for the upcoming season the market will remain at Cottonwood Park for both days, and then over the winter a possible Wednesday move could be re-assessed after talking to vendors and local businesses.

“I am anticipating any movement back is going to create a blow back of any kind and I’m wondering how we can get well in front of it and make it a clear shot so we are not arguing about it come March next year,” said Coun. Keith Page.

Martin said the provincial plan to relax and remove restrictions would play a big part in that conversation.

Council had put that discussion on city Corporate Services’ plate, Cormack said, to establish a process where people could state their honest position to someone who was not running the market.

A preliminary report on the matter showed people split on the return.

Washrooms and parking

City chief financial officer Colin McClure said the city was in the process of finishing a detailed design of a washroom for the Cottonwood Park site, then going to tender with the project.

As for the issue of a lack of parking — which has been a problem since the market first set up at Cottonwood — there was some work to do there, he admitted.

“It may not be the parking and all of the things you would like to see in 2021,” McClure told council, “but it will be done next year for sure.”

One of the things the city wanted to see down there was housing, so city staff were working on that vision with a grant it received.

2021 current operations

  • There will be 46 markets in 2021;
  • New time for Wednesday markets 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.;
  • New farmers market shopping bags to arrive beginning of the summer; and
  • Approved for 2021 Farmers Market Nutrition coupon program.

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