Toronto’s wide and diverse array of public markets includes a city-owned and operated historic permanent market hall, a funky market district spanning several city blocks, and many neighborhood, open-air markets built from the ground up by strong community champions and key anchor organizations. They each embrace a diverse range of product mix, audiences, and mandates that respond to local residents’ needs. However, the majority of these public markets operate independently and have limited opportunities to collaborate and advocate for municipal support collectively. More critically, public markets are not embedded in any City plans, policies, or programs.
The Market Cities Program began working with the Toronto Food Policy Council and the other Toronto partners, along with the two other pilot project cities: Pittsburgh, PA and Seattle, WA, in March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. In light of the pandemic, the top priority for the Toronto partners became advocating for farmers markets and fresh food markets to be declared essential services by the City. They also worked with stakeholders to develop and implement city-wide guidance documents for the safe operation of markets during the pandemic in public space. The weekly calls between the three pilot city partners, organized and facilitated by the Market Cities team, created a space for each of the pilot cities to share advocacy strategies for gaining City support for public markets during this challenging time.
For Toronto, the Market Cities process included a robust collection of baseline data on the public market system through meetings and interviews with key players in local food policy; surveying of markets; and mapping the public markets along with other data layers including wards, the subway system, population density, walking distance to markets, priority neighborhood and business improvement areas, and grocery stores to identify gaps and opportunities for public markets. This data formed the basis for the Market City action plan, which along with the project map, is published on the Toronto Food Policy Council’s website.
The clarity of this strategic plan also helped secure a meeting with the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance—a regional body that works with planning & economic development in five municipalities, plus Toronto and Hamilton. The Alliance agreed to act as a trustee organization for the Market City Toronto project to apply for funds to work towards implementing the action plan and advancing the work. This new partnership provides a foothold to not only advance the Market City action plan in Toronto, but to scale the work and impact regionally.