Robin Round, owner of the Valley’s Botanical Bliss Products, said the province’s decision to bar vendors selling non-food products from outdoor markets as a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic is crushing her business, and others as well. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Robin Round, owner of the Valley’s Botanical Bliss Products, said the province’s decision to bar vendors selling non-food products from outdoor markets as a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic is crushing her business, and others as well. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Non-food vendors ‘destroyed’ by banishment from B.C. farmers’ markets

‘They are…discriminating against the smallest of B.C. businesses under the guise of protecting us’

Artists, artisans and other non-food producing vendors are crying foul over the province’s decision on Dec. 2 to bar them from all farmers’ markets in B.C. as a safety measure during the ongoing spike in cases of COVID-19.

Many rely on the markets for much of their annual income, with Christmas being their busiest season.

Robin Round, president and owner of the Cowichan Valley’s Botanical Bliss Products that sells soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, immune system tonics, and personal health-care products, said that while she depends on online and other sales, the Duncan Farmers’ Market alone accounts for 40 per cent of her annual sales in a normal year, and has been far more this year.

“For December 2020, the Duncan Market represents closer to 80 per cent of my income as all other markets and shows are shut, and people stop ordering online in mid-December for fear of not receiving items before Christmas,” she said.

She said members of the BC Farmer’s Market Association have been vigilant in meeting COVID-19 safety requirements at all times, and all businesses who attend the market are compliant.

RELATED STORY: B.C. STRUGGLES WITH LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION IN COVID-19 PANDEMIC

“How and why they can single out small businesses in B.C. as a target for shutdown at the most critical point in the retail calendar, when all are compliant with their requirements, is beyond my comprehension,” Round said.

Round said her business is suddenly considered non-essential, but it sells many of the same types of products as Shopper’s Drug Mart, Superstore, Thrifty’s, London Drugs, Costco and many other large retail outlets, and most of these stores are currently packed with shoppers, some elbow to elbow.

“What they are doing is discriminating against the smallest of B.C. businesses under the guise of protecting us from COVID-19,” she said.

“They are not protecting us, they are destroying us. My business is incorporated in B.C. and is my full-time vocation that pays all my living expenses, including my mortgage. My business supports local bookkeepers, accountants, lawyers, graphic designers and printers, so these actions have a much broader impact than just a number of vendors at a market.”

RELATED STORY: B.C. RECORDS 619 NEW COVID CASES, 16 DEATHS AS B.C. UNVEILS VACCINE PLANS

Joe Fortin, a wood carver who relies on farmers’ markets for sales in the critical Christmas and summer seasons, said being shut out of the markets at this time of year puts all vendors who are not food producing into an extremely stressful position.

“Sales during the Christmas season keep vendors like me going until April or May when the tourist season begins,” he said. “If not for government handouts during the pandemic, I’d be in foreclosure right now and now Christmas is looking extremely bleak.”

Fortin said he recently walked through a crowded department store and found only half the people wearing masks, and the air was stale with no movement.

“I then went for a walk down my farmers’ market in Duncan and the air was clean and fresh and everybody was being mindful of each other,” he said.

“If they have to put down restrictions, they should think about where they put them. We are not great big hording crowds. We are mindful people in open-air markets.”

RELATED STORY: FARMERS MARKET BACK ON AFTER CONSULTATION WITH HEALTH OFFICIALS

Both Round and Fortin sent letters expressing their concerns to multiple government officials, including Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau, their Cowichan Valley MLA.

Furstenau said the Duncan Farmers’ Market, and other outdoor markets she’s attended, have very effective health procedures in place to help deal with COVID-19 and keep vendors and customers safe.

“I think they are doing a great job and I wrote a letter to [Health Minister] Adrian Dix asking him to work with [Provincial Health Officer] Dr. Bonnie Henry and reconsider this decision,” she said.

“Personally, I prefer shopping outdoors, especially at a time like this, and these markets support local arts and other businesses. I recognize that Adrian Dix and Dr. Henry have to make many complex decisions, but there’s always opportunities to reflect on how to do things better.”

A statement from the Ministry of Health said, at this time, farmers’ markets must only sell food items.

“Non-food items and personal services are restricted, except for on-line sales and pick-up orders,” the statement said.

“The reason that food vendors are allowed is that farmers’ markets are essential food and agriculture service providers. It’s the product (food) that is considered essential, so that is why it is allowed.”

The statement went on to say that any store operating in B.C. has filed a COVID safety plan with WorkSafe BC to make sure they are providing a safe environment to shop in.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Visitors relax at the natural hot springs located within Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. (tofinohiking.com photo)
Maquinna Marine Provincial Park boardwalk project on track

“The walk down the two-kilometre boardwalk to the springs itself is by far one of the most incredible experiences.”

WILDLIFE TREE: Tofino Poet Laureate Christine Lowther stands next to a giant cedar tree on District Lot 114, the site of Tofino’s controversial affordable housing project. The tree was pinned with an official Ministry of Forests yellow wildlife tree sign to educate fallers that the tree needs to be left standing for food, shelter and nesting. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Tofino author Christine Lowther calling for poetry about trees

“I’m thrilled to be of service to trees through poetry.”

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March 6. (Westerly file photo)
Tofino’s mayoralty candidates lay out key differences

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March 6.

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Clockwise from top right, chamber executive director Jen Dart moderated a Zoom-based forum last week where Tofino’s mayoralty candidates J.J. Belanger, Andrea McQuade and Dan Law made their pitch to lead their community. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Tofino mayoralty candidates face off at forum

Town to elect new mayor and two new councillors on March 6.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena before heading onto the ice for practice. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Young Ladysmith skater watches and waits in battle against cancer

Ella Donovan’s tumour began a tumultuous time, but community support eased the burden

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Most Read