City of Nelson takes Farmers’ Market out of EcoSociety’s hands

West Kootenay EcoSociety asked the City of Nelson for support to run the twice weekly farmers’ markets this year and has now been told that the City has unilaterally decided to run the markets on their own.

For 17 years, West Kootenay EcoSociety has built up our weekly farmers’ markets in Nelson at Cottonwood Falls Park, expanding the weekly markets to the Downtown Wednesday market, starting MarketFest and running Gardenfest. These markets were conceived and developed by volunteers and later professionalized to be regional destination community events by EcoSociety staff and committed volunteers. Every year we’ve raised funds through vendor fees, donations, sponsorships and small grants to build these vibrant markets. 

The markets are a core part of our service we provide to the community to support local food security and a major part of our non-profit business. They are run under EcoSociety’s food sustainability pillar.

Running the markets this year during the pandemic has presented big logistical and financial challenges, with fewer vendors and customers visiting markets across the province. We have been fully engaged since the markets ended last year in planning the 2020 markets. Our Markets Coordinator and supporting staff have been pivoting amid Covid and funding challenges, working with farmers, the BC Farmers’ Markets Association, community groups and funding organizations to develop a safe outdoor grocery store with local food vendors that meets provincial guidelines.

To cover operating costs for the markets with the loss of most vendor fees, EcoSociety has been trying to negotiate support from the City of Nelson, the Regional District of Central Kootenay, Columbia Basin Trust and other groups. We secured support from CBT and from Community Grants from several area directors within the RDCK, and we extend our deep thanks for their trust in us to deliver safe, accessible and sustainable farmers’ markets during this challenging pandemic and are grateful for their support.

However, yesterday West Kootenay EcoSociety was told by City of Nelson staff that the City would be running farmers markets this year at Cottonwood Falls Park.

Council passed a resolution directing Youth Centre staff to operate the farmers market with the assistance of the EocSociety market manager, contingent on the market manager wage being funded by the CBT $15,000 market grant. If the EcoSociety did not agree with this then the Youth Centre would manage the markets independent of the EcoSociety. I understand and want to confirm, that in our conversation this morning, you advised me that the EcoSociety had already used the $15,000 CBT market funding to pay for the market manager wage to date. Therefore, the Eco Society is not in a position to help fund the market manager, and the City will solely operate the market.”

We were not part of that decision.

The City of Nelson did not grant EcoSociety the CIP grant funds requested to run the markets, instead they have allocated the $7,000 to their Youth Centre to run the markets. The City has also contacted RDCK area directors asking them to instead send the financial support they committed to EcoSociety’s markets to the City.

We are saddened by the City of Nelson’s decision to make this unilateral move away from the successful model we developed and implemented for the benefit of local farmers and residents. We are baffled by this precedent for the City to take over part of a local business for the common good, especially during a pandemic.

As a result of the City’s decision, we made the hard decision to lay off our Market Coordinator effective this week, and all inquiries about the operation of farmers markets in Nelson this year should be directed to the City. 

We’ve coordinated the BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program locally that provides farmers’ market coupons to low income families and seniors–last year distributing $26,000 in coupons–and we hope the City of Nelson will continue this needed program so our community’s most vulnerable people get healthy local food during this pandemic year. 

We wish the City the best of luck in running the markets this year.

And most importantly, we hope the farmers, the other market vendors, and the local residents who depend on the markets for their livelihoods and food sources have a successful year.

We look forward to running the markets again when we are able to cover our operating costs from vendor fees and community donations.

This year we’re continuing to run our renewable energy efforts and old growth forest education program, while providing support to our communities during the pandemic with online learning and connecting activities, like our twice weekly webinars on topics like gardening, forests, renewable energy and wellness.