No wish to discourage farmers’ market, says Dysart mayor

By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The group representing the Haliburton County Farmers’ Market presented a new proposal to Dysart council they hope will open their familiar venue to them this season.

Angel Taylor, the Haliburton County Farmers’ Market Association’s secretary, and board member Mike Townsend, who is also a market vendor, discussed a proposal with township council Feb. 27 that they hope will open Head Lake Park as a continued marketplace.

“Getting this settled now is really urgent,” Taylor said, and added that the market application deadline has been put off for a month.

The possibility of the market returning to Head Lake Park in 2024 has been in doubt since Dysart council posed new terms of use in November 2023 that were to protect the municipality from paying for park repairs and to assuage liability concerns.

To cover alleged property damage at the park, council proposed a $1,000 fee for each month July to September, the peak months. A $700 fee would be applied for other months.

The most recent offer by council was that the market could return to the park in 2025 and that each vendor pony up $5 to the township each market day.

In a Feb. 5 letter to township council, Taylor said the association’s counter-offer achieves a workable compromise. Further, the group suggested a committee be formed that consists of farmers’ market association members and municipal parks and recreation staff.

The committee will work toward a protocol for safe and careful park usage by vendors and a methodology to fairly determine whether the market damaged the park, as has been alleged.

Taylor also suggested that the association can help support park improvements that adhere to a Head Lake Park Master Plan, provided there’s assurance of uninterrupted park use for the duration of the market season.

As for the counter-offer, the recommended option is that council waive all fees for the 2024 season.

“This grace period will allow council to approve and implement a fee structure for the future use of HLP that treats all organizations fairly and transparently,” Taylor said in her letter to council.

“This also gives the HCFMA the opportunity to secure finances associated with proposed park fees through fundraising opportunities, community sponsorship, and public donations.”

Barrie Martin, the co-chairperson of Harvest Haliburton, said in a letter of support for the association’s proposal that the market has thrived at Head Lake Park for 11 years. It has become an integral part of the community in that time.

“The success of the market at this location is evident in the substantial attendance, with close to 20,000 visitors enjoying the market annually,” Martin said. “The positive impact of the market has extended beyond the vendors to benefit the local community.”

That community benefit is seen in Haliburton’s vibrant economic health, he said.

“It is crucial to recognize that supporting the farmers’ market is not only about sustaining a beloved community event, but also about nurturing and encouraging our fragile local agriculture,” he said. “The market at Head Lake Park has become a vital source of income for many vendors.”

Taylor said the ongoing delay has been discouraging to vendors.

The local group took a look at farmers’ markets in other central and southern Ontario locations. Of the 18 markets contacted, 15 get use of their location free of charge from their respective municipality and six get additional support in the form of security, use of staff, trash pick-up, and even funding in some instances.

Those asked to pay a fee were indoor markets and the charges were “considerably lower” than what’s proposed by Dysart, Taylor said.

Townsend said the group would like to get the issue settled as soon as possible in order to get the season in motion.

Mayor Murray Fearrey said there was never any intent to discourage holding the farmers’ market.

“We didn’t think $5 (a day) was going to cause such a storm,” Fearrey said.

“As far as I’m concerned, this thing got right off the rails with lack of communication and then people started trying to negotiate (and) almost embarrass, I feel, our council in the newspapers,” Deputy Mayor Walt McKechnie said. “We had no intentions at all of ever shutting the market down.”

He said council is supportive of the farmers’ market but, ultimately, the taxpayers are first priority.

Councillor Pat Casey said consensus among various social groups in Dysart is that $5 a day isn’t a deal-breaker.

Fearrey said the $5 is unconditional and it would be put into a park fund. Most events at the park are a matter of days. The market is there a whole season. And the township has never taken the $400 deposit for damages.

“I think we’ve been more than fair,” he said, and added that other park events will be looked at in terms of deposit fees.

Taylor said the association will have confer and return to council.

In the end, council reaffirmed its green light for the market in 2024 provided each vendor pay $5 per market day.