Spotlight profile—Justin, Executive Director of a Nova Scotia-based cooperative of farmers' markets

Justin: Executive Director of a Nova Scotia-based cooperative of farmers' markets.

Justin believes in the power of small-scale, community-based business to create lasting social and economic change. Based in Dartmouth, he currently oversees a cooperative of over 40 farmers' markets, representing 1,500 owner-operated businesses, throughout the province of Nova Scotia. His team works with local farmers and food vendors across Nova Scotia by providing the information, resources and support that they need in order to bring their products to market.

There is a prevalent "Buy Local" movement on the East Coast. Nova Scotia has set out strong targets for local food consumption. By 2030, the aim is to have 20% of all food consumed by Nova Scotians to be produced locally. The challenge is that Nova Scotians primarily rely on imported food, with the province reporting the highest provincial rate of food insecurity in Canada. Without outside intervention, they would have only 48 hours' worth of food available, not nearly enough to sustain the province. Justin wants to encourage growers to produce and sell their crops in Nova Scotia, so that its communities can lessen their reliance upon pre-made, pre-packaged food options that are often more expensive and not local.

Farmers' markets need considerable support in order to operate. They can be set up virtually anywhere—either at a church, community centre, or a fair ground—any open, publicly-accessible space is a possible venue, so long as a public market permit is purchased. The challenge with sourcing some locations is that if there is food preparation involved, it must be done in a commercially inspected kitchen—whether or not it is on-site. Since Justin's farmers' markets operate under a "make it, bake it, grow it" policy, all vendors must produce their own products.

Justin believes that enabling local food systems can have a number of positive benefits, which produces a positive ripple effect throughout the community. His co-operative aims to engage local producers to not only be a part of the network of farmers' markets, but also to empower them, enabling them to become more self-sufficient in the local food ecosystem. When joining a co-operative member farmers' market, producers not only gain access to the space that they need to set up and operate their business, but they are also provided with the resources and guidance that they need throughout the process to ensure that they are successful. Through a combination of in-person trainings, webinars, and online resources, farmers' markets and producers become a part of a wider network of member managers, support staff, volunteers and other vendors who band together to promote and sustain local enterprise.

These settings become a space for incubation to take place. By providing the resources, support, and guidance needed, Justin hopes to support all producers, but especially marginalized groups, who have traditionally experienced challenges entering the small business realm. His markets have allowed them to sell their wares to testbed customer demand for minimal upfront costs, often ranging from $15-$35 per week. He also wants to ensure that farmers' markets are accessible spaces for all members of the community. His team has initiated a nutrition coupon program which provides households in need with "food bucks" that can be redeemed for fresh produce from participating vendors. In 2021, the third year of the program, 27 farmers' markets participated in the program, distributing over $250,000 worth of coupons to more than 500 participating households. In exit surveys from the program, participants highlighted the positive economic and social benefits that they received: from providing access to healthy alternatives, to teaching their children the importance of supporting local. Illustrative of a full-circle moment, many coupon recipients have even gone on to become vendors themselves!

Justin and his team are trying to build an ecosystem of services that can support food vendors. He has partnered with organizations such as the Centre for Women in Business, the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, and the YREACH program through the YMCA. He has also formed partnerships with post-secondary institutions like Dalhousie University, Acadia University and Mount St. Vincent University, to advance research on food insecurity and explore how farmers' markets can be a part of the solution.

Justin wants to have increased clarity and transparency surrounding the positive economic impact of localized agriculture. Data from the 2021 Census of Agriculture can help local food advocates, like Justin, better understand the connection between producers and consumers of locally grown food. The most recent data from the 2021 Census of Agriculture show that more than 4,100 farms reported using farmers' markets to sell agricultural products for human consumption directly to consumers. Coordinators of farmers' markets can also use the Census of Agriculture: Mapping Tool to learn more about the current status of farm operations in Canada. By using the tool, they are able to learn more about what types of farms are located in various regions of the country. By having access to this information, they can make decisions about which locations may be best positioned to have a farmers' market in their local community.

Data from the 2021 Census of Population and 2021 Census of Agriculture continues to be released throughout 2022. Stay tuned for the latest insights!

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