Farmers’ market transfer might worsen Saskatoon’s ‘meals desert’

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“It’s just one less access point.”

Author of the article:

Zak Vescera

Publication date:

November 21, 2019November 21, 2019Read for 4 minutes Join the conversation Saskatoon Farmers’ Market Cooperative executive director Erika Quiring says moving the market to a new location will exacerbate the lack of access to healthy food in the city’s downtown area. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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The farmers’ market move could make Saskatoon’s food wasteland even drier.


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The market, slated to move from Riversdale to the north of the city next month, is one of the few places to find fresh produce in the city center and in the western central areas of the city.

Researchers have called the region a “food desert” with almost no access to food.

“Grocery stores have really followed the money out into the suburbs,” said Gordon Enns, president of the Saskatoon Food Council. “Basically we have no access to good, fresh food in the core area.”

Professor Rachel Engler-Stringer from the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan has been researching access to food in Saskatoon’s neighborhoods for years. She says the farmers’ market move is the latest in a trend that is reducing access to healthy food in low-income communities.

“The west side of Saskatoon was already very poorly served from a grocery store perspective,” said Engler-Stringer. “With the move of the farmers’ market, the limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables will be further restricted.”

The market is open three days a week. It is moving because the city that owns the building wanted to actively use the space six days a week Saskatoon Farmers’ Market Cooperative executive director Erika Quiring said this was not feasible.

There is concern that it will affect access to food for local residents without having to travel far to shop for groceries.

“Many of our individual customers have expressed this to us. They don’t want us to go – they don’t want us to go to a place that is not so easily accessible, ”Quiring said.


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‘Chicken and the Egg’

The roots of the Saskatoon food wasteland are complex, but many say it’s about the money.

A 2017 market study by the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority found that the downtown area did not have enough residents to run a business.

The Good Food Junction, a co-op grocery store designed to address the lack of food access on the west side, closed in 2017. Engler-Stringer said his average transaction size was often in the $ 5 to $ 10 range.

“You can’t keep a shop going with such low purchases,” she said. “The income is so low that people don’t have the money to buy food, period.”

It’s a “chicken-and-egg problem,” said CHEP Good Food Community Markets and outreach coordinator Michayla van de Velde.

“Grocery stores don’t get stores, so they move elsewhere, and people in those areas are even more insecure and less likely to buy something in those stores because they can’t access them.”

CHEP operates pop-up markets across the city.

While the market – and CHEP – aren’t one-stop supermarkets, the loss of the farmers’ market is another step backwards for local food, says van de Velde.

“It’s just one less access point.”

Deserts and swamps

For people without a car, the shopping opportunities for groceries in the core areas are limited.

Ward 2, which includes Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, currently has a population of more than 20,000 – but not a single supermarket.

Count. Hilary Gough said her car-less constituents are being forced to rely on convenience stores with limited, less healthy offerings.


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“There are many resources, but there is no full access grocery store that gives people affordable access to goods they may need,” she said.

Engler-Stringer calls these areas “food swamps” – places where healthy alternatives are lacking and unhealthy are in abundance.

She said the combination of limited choices and running pushes consumers towards unhealthy foods simply because it is the only option.

“We like to say, ‘It’s a lot easier to carry a bag of chips than a bag of potatoes,'” she said.

Gough said the city’s call for proposals for the current location of the Riversdale market requires a two-day-a-week market, to which it is “absolutely committed”.

She hopes the move won’t affect access to food in the community, but she’d like to see a grocery store in the area soon, both to encourage new residents to move in and to serve the people who now live there , she said.

“It’s absolutely an inequality or an equity problem. Income plays a huge role in people’s ability to access the food they need. “

Enns said the problem was more complicated than the lack of a supermarket.

He found that the lack of nutritious food has myriad spillover effects, ranging from crime to poor health to problems with child development. He would like a multi-pronged nutritional strategy to address the problem, something that City Hall officials have been discussing, he said.

“We have to break the silos, not just look at things from one perspective.”

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