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

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

Greater Victoria had more new cases than any other Island area: B.C. Centre for Disease Control

‘For Sale’ signs quickly turned to ‘Sold’ signs as record-high demand for housing meets record-low inventory. (Cole Schisler photo)
Multiple offers and unconditional sales rampant in Ladysmith housing market

Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Zone 3 director Susan Perrey says the market is ‘crazy all around’

From left to right: Vicki Barta, Bruce Ormond, Greg Heide, Gord McInnis, and Charles Harman rehearse via zoom for the upcoming radio play, “Visitor from Planet Zoltan”. (Submitted photo)
Radio plays prove successful for Ladysmith Little Theatre, four more in production

Ladysmith Little Theatre pivoted to producing radio plays during the pandemic

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees in Oyster Bay

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

Ladysmith’s Taylor Walters received the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award and is hard at work pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human-Computer Interaction at Quest University. (Submitted photo)
Ladysmith teen receives Terry Fox Humanitarian Award for advocating equal access to STEM opportunities

‘Different people think differently and that’s so important for innovation,’ Taylor Walters says

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

An armed officer walks outside Cerwydden Care on Cowichan Lake Road near Skinner Road Wednesday, April 14 around 5:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Police standoff at Duncan apartment ends peacefully

Officers surround building as homeowner held in apartment for nearly four hours by adult son

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Hwy. 4 was shut down in both directions for 10 hours on March 23 as a rock bluff was blasted as part of Kennedy Hill’s ongoing construction. Commuters can expect five more 10 hour closures on five consecutive Wednesdays beginning April 28. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Five 10-hour Pacific Rim highway closures planned in the next 6 weeks

Closures needed for rock blasting as part of the Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project.

Bulldogs forward Stephen Castagna flips the puck into the Clippers zone during a game on Oct. 24. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Island BCHL game postponed due to ‘potential positive’ COVID-19 test

Nanaimo Clippers team suspends activities, players isolating pending further test results

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller said it would be “very challenging and not very safe” for him and his teammates to play as scheduled on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks’ return to ice postponed again after players voice COVID health concerns

Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers was called off after the team met virtually with the NHLPA

Most Read