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Trying to get farmers back to the ByWard Market

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Farmer Mel Foster is getting ready for planting season. His crop of vegetable and fruit are grown in North Gower, just outside of Ottawa.

"In February, we will be planting onions, tomatoes and peppers," said the co-owner of Foster Family Farms.

In the summer, you'll find them at farmers' markets throughout Ottawa like the Ottawa Farmers' Market, The Main Farmers' Market, the Manotick Farmers' Market, Beechwood, and Barrhaven/The Log Farm Market.

One place Foster Farms hasn't been is the ByWard Market.

"It's not much of a farmers' market anymore after the pandemic," he said.

For years, William Street and ByWard Market Square would be full of stalls, local farmers, and specialty food vendors, drawing in crowds, but several left during the pandemic and never came back. In a post-pandemic world, the market itself is still finding its footing.

Downtown revitalization plans are already in the works. New tenants are moving into the former McDonald's on Rideau Street, the National Capital Commission hopes to turn the former Chapters property at Rideau and Sussex into an event space, and a police hub is setting up shop in the nearby Rideau Centre.

The ByWard Market Authority is going a step further by waiving vendor fees for farmers, a cost that would previously range between $2,000 and $2,500 per month.

"It's about re-inviting people to become engaged with all the opportunities that exist down here," said Zachary Dayler, the ByWard Market Authority's executive director. "We're going to ensure produce is available, but we also want to make sure that great artisans are on offer, that there's wonderful musicians, and that it is an active public market a public space."

But is that enough to draw in farmers like Mel Foster? He says it's not something he is considering any time soon.

"It's a tough question," he said. "The distance is almost an hour drive away from our farm. To load our big truck of produce and find parking for our truck downtown… another question is if there still a customer base there. It's not something that we've looked at." 

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