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Local food for a resilient city through Evergreen’s Farm in a Box

How packing up the farmers' market continued to build resilience through the pandemic.

Farm in a Box Evergreen Brick Works

Published on July 28, 2020

For over a decade, Evergreen's Saturday Farmers Market has been providing people in Toronto with fresh food from Ontario farmers and producers. Since its opening at the Brick Works site, our market has become a hub in the community where visitors can meet and shop from the people who are passionate about bringing good local food into our homes.

The start of the global pandemic meant no longer shaking the hand who grew our food, but for Evergreen, suspending the farmers’ market from March to June didn’t mean the good local food Ontario farmers grew couldn’t make their way into our homes. It meant packing the market up in a box.

packing the farm in a box at evergreen brick works
Packing the Farm in a Box at Evergreen Brick Works.

Forty-eight hours after the day we officially put the market on hold, Evergreen’s Farm in a Box was born. The new offering took everything that dedicated market-goers loved about the Saturday Farmers Market – seasonal produce, fresh baked bread, locally produced cheese and homemade dips – and wrapped it up for weekly pick-up from happy (masked) faces. During this time, the program continued to build a resilient food system by providing access to sustainable food from local Ontario farmers, while even maintaining the ritual of picking up the box on Saturday morning – market day.

Here are some of the impacts that made the program a success.

Our farmers and producers earned income when the markets they rely on were not operating.

Farmers and producers are no stranger to obstacles. Each year, they may face drought, flooding, pests, disease, and low-demand seasons. But it’s their nimbleness and ability to adapt in these circumstances that makes them resilient. Working with a rotation of 22 farmers and producers, the Farm in a Box program balanced what would otherwise be a large revenue loss to a total $95,000 income.

Our Farm in a Box customers appreciated the weekly ritual and continued access to local food.

During the period when outings were limited, we heard from many that Farm in a Box pickup was the highlight of their week. Within the first 24 hours, the first week’s 100 boxes were sold out. Evergreen’s market team then scaled up to double the number of boxes, which brought local food to the dinner plates to a total of over 1,500 customers of both regular market-goers and even people new to the local food movement.

Our donors and community partners teamed up with Evergreen to further increase access to good, local food.

Inspired by the new offering and with the support of a long-time donor, we expanded to serve people in transitional housing, newcomers and Indigenous elders. Evergreen partnered with YMCA Danforth Women’s Shelter, Toronto Council Fire and The Neighbourhood Organization to create the Healthy Food for All program. Starting in June, we began packing boxes with volunteers for over 50 families a week. Thanks to the support from our donors and partners, this program will continue until the end of August.

We need to continue to build a resilient food system for a resilient city.

Since resuming operations at the modified Saturday Farmers Market, Evergreen has introduced the new Friends of Evergreen Brick Works membership program. With a special focus this season on the farmers’ market, a yearly membership keeps our long-standing market viable now and well into the future. As a part of this new community of market lovers, members get access to a rotation of market deals from our vendors. Sign up and support the market today.