CornerStone’s Principles Nourish a Local Market

Guest Blogger

Thanks to Sarah Hood, a Toronto-based freelancer, for contributing this post to CSD. The Leslieville Farmers’ Market, born in east-end Toronto in June of 2011, …

Food vision

Thanks to Sarah Hood, a Toronto-based freelancer, for contributing this post to CSD.

The Leslieville Farmers’ Market, born in east-end Toronto in June of 2011, has been a big success story, drawing as many as 1,500 people weekly to shop for fresh local produce, chat with their neighbours, food producers and farmers, and learn about the food they eat.

When it was created, the market was guided by a list of “pillars”, but after the second full season, in the winter of 2012-2013, the board decided it was time to deepen its philosophical foundations. As a regular volunteer with some experience in these matters, I was asked to chair a series of visioning sessions, and decided to apply some of the principles I had learned through working with CornerStone Dynamics.

In particular, I knew that one of the key tenets of CornerStone Dynamics is that you can’t be productive if you don’t know where you want to go. Therefore, I set the board to several tasks. Among these was to develop a mandate (our essential function), a mission (how we achieve it), a set of values and a lofty long-term vision or goal. Later, a set of shorter-term, very specific and measurable objectives would flow from these.

I was personally eager to make sure the resulting framework would help to focus and direct the many side projects the market organizes. Since these are fuelled by volunteer efforts, it seemed important to be able to choose exactly the right projects so as to use volunteer time wisely and with purpose.

We began by having each board or staff member list some moments that they felt showed the market at its best. To our surprise, none of these top moments had to do with high revenue for the vendors; they were all about helping make fruitful connections between people and organizations.

The board quickly realized that making connections is one of our strengths, and that our mandate was “Connecting everyone to good food”. The mission became: “By fostering engagement and supporting relationships among the community and local environmentally responsible food producers, Leslieville Farmer’s Market increases access to and awareness of local and seasonal fresh food”. These naturally lead to our long-term goal, a time when: “Everyone nourishes a sustainable food system that nourishes everyone.”

After considerable discussion, six values were identified; in order of importance, these are Nourishment, Integrity, Inclusivity, Celebration, Education and Growth. These have become very important tools in helping us identify which vendors should be present at the market, which organizations we invite to participate in our events, and even which foods each vendor should be invited to sell.

At the beginning of the 2013 season, we began to integrate some of our thinking into everything we did. The mandate, mission, goal and values now turn up in our volunteer materials, on our website, and at the heading of our weekly newsletters to marketgoers.

Perhaps even more significantly, our new vision is helping us plan better events; for instance, last year we held a pretty generic day with a bicycle theme. It took a lot of work, but it didn’t seem to have much impact. This year, we realized that our vision requires more of a food focus, so we created “CycleFare”, an event that highlights how restaurants, caterers, urban farmers and specialized delivery companies are using extremely cool bicycles to deliver everything from coffee to compost by bike. It drew new people to the market and built some new relationships that will allow us to grow the event in the future.

Partly because of our new, sharper focus, the market is drawing bigger crowds and its reputation is spreading across the city. And you know what? The vendors are making more money!

Sarah HoodAbout Sarah Hood

Sarah B. Hood is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Her latest book is “We Sure Can! How jams and pickles are reviving the lure and lore of local food” (Arsenal Pulp Press).


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