Farmers' market upset with city's decision to shut it down

The Prince George Farmers' Market Association is crying foul over city hall's decision to close the market down in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Officials refused to allow the market to open the doors on Saturday. In response, PGFMA president Martin Krell has sent a letter of protest to the city.

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In it, he said the PGFMA is "very mindful" of the crisis but at the same time "feels a responsibility to provide healthy local food to assist grocery stores as they serve such a large population."

The larger areas in grocery stores may cause a concern for some patrons, he added, and asked the city to reverse its position.

With the letter, Krell also provided a lengthy list of conditions under which market proposed to operate. They include allowing no more than 50 people in the building at any time, reconfiguring the tables and booths to allow for two metres of social distancing and restricting vendors to food, health, body and cleaning products only.

In an e-mail to the Citizen, Krell said the market is an "essential food hub" that supplies meats - beef, buffalo, pork, lamb, chicken and fish - seasonal vegetables and sprouts, baking and cleaning supplies, all from local sources.

Moreover, he claimed the markets' products go through less handling, travel and human contact between the farm and the table than do those found in a supermarket and provides them in an environment "far less crowded than grocery stores or big box stores."

On the same day the market in Prince George was closed down, farmers' markets in Vancouver and Burnaby were up and running, Krell said, and noted the State of California regards them as an essential service and has listed them in the same category as grocery stores and food banks.

He also noted that in a March 19 posting on social media, B.C. agriculture minister Lana Popham said that under "additional conditions," farmers' markets can continue to operate.

Krell also provided a March 16 letter from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control saying that after consulting with B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, it agrees that farmers' markets can continue, although it also notes they are usually held outdoors and usually have a limited number of people in any one area at the time.

The Prince George Farmers' Market operates out of a city-owned building at Third Avenue and Quebec Street downtown. In an e-mailed response, city external relations director Rob Van Adrichem said the market was closed as part of an order from the provincial health officer to close a number of the city's facilities.

"The City is committed to doing its part to limit the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging physical distancing and this has unfortunately involved the closure of multiple facilities where members of the public gather," he added.

In his e-mail, Krell said B.C.'s farmer's markets are "first and foremost food retail establishments and a place to purchase food. They are NOT social events."

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