For the time being, the Provincial Health Officer is not allowing the sale of non-food items at farmers markets.
The announcement followed a further tightening of rules pertaining to gatherings and events. Non-food items will, however, be available through online sales and pick-up orders.
“To have them taken away again is a big blow, especially at Christmas time. This is the prime time,” said Twila Skinner, general manager of the Comox Valley Farmers Market Association. “We run a safe market. In fact, I think some of our protocols are even greater than the grocery stores here.”
She said there are five non-food vendors who cannot sell, and another five farmers who have to reduce their load because the product is value-added such as soap and hand sanitizer.
Since farmers markets are deemed an essential service, she questions why grocery stores can sell these items.
“It does take a hit to the vendors for that,” she said. “(But) I think people for the most part are being flexible. We’re trying to promote the vendors that can’t be at the physical market on our online market, so we can make sure they get some business.”
The local market is a member of the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets, which Skinner said has been advocating on their behalf by speaking to the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Between now and March, she said the market loses a lot of farmer’s product which is done for the season.
“We rely on our non-food vendors, as well, to keep the market sustainable.”
Due to social distancing, the market can only fit 21 vendors inside the Native Sons Hall, compared to the 50-some vendors who could sell before COVID-19 struck.
Skinner is grateful to the City of Courtenay for allowing the fall/winter market to operate in an expanded area in the parking lot between the hall and the Sid Williams Theatre.
“We’re able to make it work,” Skinner said. “We have been able to keep going this whole time, whereas other markets have not.”