Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Week of Drama for The Farmers’ Market

So the weather outside is frightful, and so is the shopping season for vendors at Guelph’s Farmers’ Markets… And speaking of the weather outside, that was where produce vendors of the Market were supposed to be before a last minute reprieve. Yes, the ingenious solution by the City to the sudden need to move the Farmers’ Market before the roof on the building at the corner of Gordon and Waterloo collapsed, was to set up the arts & crafts sellers in the foyer at City Hall, while sticking the produce sellers in the Wilson St parking lot. But then last Thursday, the City said they had more room than they thought, and all venders were moved inside. However due to Echo Weekly’s deadlines, I’m not sure how this whole thing turned out, but the process leading up to it was, to use the correct terminology, a gong show.

It started a couple of weeks ago when vendors at the Market were told that repairs were needed on the roof of the building. Repairs were needed, said the City, but it isn’t so bad that the building would have to be shut down for, say, eight to ten weeks so that repairs could be made. That was Saturday November 27. Precisely one week later came word from Derek McCaughan, the city’s director of operations and transit, saying that if you even breathe on the roof wrong it’ll fall like a house of cards.

Okay, he didn’t actually say that, but the message at a meeting between city reps and the vendors of the Farmers’ Market on Saturday December 4 was that we need to get you guys out of here because this roof will fall with even a hint of snow. This after saying exactly seven days earlier that despite the need for repairs, it would take a “once in 50 years snowfall” to collapse the roof of the Market building. And before you can say that the announcement caused outrage amongst the vendors, the outrage was already on…

The first option presented was to move the Farmers’ Market to an old bus barn on 12 Municipal St., which, apparently, was the closest, biggest and most conveniently located facility which could house the Farmers’ Market. After a health inspection, the bus barn was, surprisingly, deemed unsuitable. As it turned out it would have taken longer to bring the barn up to code in order to temporarily house the Market, then it would take to do the repairs on the Market’s building. The result was the Solomon-like decision that you read at the top of the column. And although meat and cheese were initially shut out, the option to sell frozen meat was made available. But considering most vendors sell fresh that probably wasn’t much of a consultation.

Seriously, if you are a vendor at the Farmers’ Market or a user of the Farmers’ Market, you really have every right to get ticked off. From the City’s changing appraisal of the direness of the situation to the Michael Brown (as in “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job…”) like response to the problem, there are a lot of questions in the air about just what the heck went wrong. Why did the roof problem get so dire, so fast? Was there no where else that the City could have moved the Market to? There was no contingency plan in the works prior to last week? Especially, since they knew the roof was an issue since last July

Those are serious questions and in an article in the Guelph Mercury even McCaughan conceded that there weren’t enough answers for the questions people have. In the absence of actual answers, the vacuum is being filled by pundits and conspiracy theorists. One person sent a letter to the Mercury saying that they were “convinced that the City of Guelph is undertaking to systematically and methodically disrupt, dismantle and dissolve the farmers market as we know it today.” They added that recent by-law adjustments and a new insurance requirement were also part of that campaign, and now that those didn’t completely work, the City is moving to a more aggressive measure.

Of course, letting air into a conspiracy theory is like leaving the food on your plate to grow more fungus, it’ll keep spreading until you get the dish soap out and disinfect that sucker. Despite the statement in her inaugural address about promoting better communication between the City and its people, this kick-off issue of the new term shows that there’s still a divide, and it’s one of the city’s making. As of the Farmers’ Market only one thing is certain, it will probably never be the same again.

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