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EcoSociety shuffled out of farmer’s market as city deals deck to youth centre

For nearly 20 years, the West Kootenay EcoSociety has organized farmer's markets in Nelson, including the very popular Gardenfest on Baker Street. — The Nelson Daily file photo

The city has elected to hand the operations of the farmer’s markets to another organization less than one month after fielding a request from the West Kootenay EcoSociety for financial help with the markets.

The Nelson and District Youth Centre will assume operations of the Wednesday and Saturday farmer’s markets at Cottonwood Falls Park, a decision that has caught the West Kootenay EcoSociety (WKE) by surprise.

For nearly 20 years the WKE has developed the weekly markets in Cottonwood Falls, said WKE executive director Montana Burgess, adding in the downtown Wednesday market, MarketFest and Gardenfest.

“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,” she said in a press release Wednesday.

“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.”

The WKE had raised funds through vendor fees, donations, sponsorships and small grants to build those markets, she added.

To take all of that hard work and years of development away from the EcoSociety is difficult to absorb, Burgess related.

“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,” she said.

The city 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.

“It is unfortunate the EcoSociety has characterized the city as having made this decision unilaterally, instead of acknowledging that council stepped up to support the markets because of the inability of the EcoSociety to run the markets without substantial new funding,” said city communications coordinator Ginger Lester in a press release.

She 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 this year without substantial new grants from the city, regional directors, Columbia Basin Trust and additional donations from the community.

“The EcoSociety also indicated for the first time today 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 Lester in the press release.

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 has asked the RDCK area directors to send the financial support they committed to EcoSociety’s markets to the city.

But Lester said council was able to utilize youth centre staff and youth employees to “step into the gap and run the markets this year, to ensure there is stability for the vendors and the community.

“The staffing cost difference for the youth centre to run the markets was $30,000 alone, plus overhead cost savings in excess of $5,000,” Lester said in the release.

To keep the market in place this year during the covid-19 pandemic, the EcoSociety used its $15,000 CBT market funding to pay for the market manager to date, Burgess explained.

The city had passed a resolution Monday night 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.

With the EcoSociety not in a position to help fund the market manager, the city opted to solely operate the market, the city press release said.

“It is also unfortunate the EcoSociety has expended the full $15,000 grant they received from the CBT to run the markets prior to even the first market being open and therefore had to lay off their market manager,” Lester wrote in the release.

Despite the setback the EcoSociety is planning to assume the reigns of the market again next year.

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

COVID-19 safety protocols

To ensure the markets will run efficiently and safely, the city has established a covid-19 safety plan for all staff, vendors, and patrons.  

Safety protocols will be in place on June 13 at the first market.

The Nelson markets were scheduled to start on June 6, however, due to uncertain weather patterns and dangerous water flows from Cottonwood Creek, market operations will start on Saturday, June 13.

— Source: City of Nelson