Please sign our petition to the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market.
Sometimes, the most unlikely bullies are right under your nose. And you don’t notice until it’s too late. Then you don’t want to publicly call them bullies because everyone loves them. You just want it all to go away. But it doesn’t. So today for Pink Shirt Day (National Stop Bullying Day) I’m finally deciding to call out my bullies. You’ll never guess… it’s the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market.
Many of of you have asked my why I stopped going to the market, sad to not see me and my goats there. I just want to say that I’ve really missed it and you all too. Especially my young friends. It was a very special thing.
Because of very bitter community politics, that I now understand date right back to the formation of the market, I have been “banned” from the market for 5 years! Why? Because I raised my voice against the way that the market was dealing with a most important community neighbour, Heritage St. Norbert. And I’m very sad to report that things continue to worsen.
What is really at stake is the intention of the original founder and donor of this piece of land, my father, Bill Loewen. It was a gift that he made and has had so many positive repercussions in the community. But it came with a requirement: that the land be used for community and historical purposes. This was set out in the legal documents that accompanied his donation.
Now, one might be tempted to call the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market a community entity, and it certainly is moreso than say Walmart. But it is no more community than the St. Norbert Downtown BIZ. These are business associations. They are commercial. Of course, this piece of land can be shared. And good neighbours would have respectfully done so.
But over the years and most significantly in these past years, the interests of the market have far outweighed the pursuit of historical and community objectives.
I have always felt the weight of this and for many years successfully, thanks also to Ed Dean, the vendor services manager at the time, my booth literally and figuratively, bridged the divide. Many of you will remember my booth sat in front of the historical museum, McDougal House, Heritage St. Norbert’s pride and joy. It was certainly a crafty thing for market organizers to locate my booth outside of their officially leased area as they knew that I, as a family member and long-time community activist would be acceptable to Heritage St. Norbert. This began a process of slowly, ever increasingly, utilizing more of this space. Of course, the market’s instinct is always to expand. Whether or not that is prudent or even positive is certainly up for debate.
Nontheless, for seven years I took up the role of helping both groups. I was always a support person to the summer student who worked at McDougal House as it was almost always a young woman working by herself. I loved it! I was always on hand to help out market organizer Marilyn Firth’s new ideas and especially with pr.
So how did it go wrong? As I said this feud began very early on and is well-documented. I can say that it is only because of my time recuperating from two! hip replacements in this past year that I have had the time to delve into the old files and try to make sense of something that has become a terrible community failure.
To say that it was the washroom project that did it is just to recognize the tip of the iceberg. And the straw that broke the camel’s back. The washrooms could have been located adjacent to the Community Club’s Splash Pad and really made a contribution to the larger community. Instead, it was put into a space outside the market’s official leased area, and adjacent the historical buildings that had all been contributed by Heritage St. Norbert effort – on the now small strip of land that ended up under the unofficial but longstanding stewardship of Heritage St. Norbert. And now the market is pushing full steam ahead to build a year-round structure on land that is only leased to them for 2 more years and again without the support of Heritage St. Norbert.
Over and over again, I asked for mediation in our increasingly heated meetings but could not ever get that motion on the table. Initially I offered to chair a site committee that would have representation from all groups to sit together and creatively brainstorm win-win solutions. I believe and still believe that is the only way out.
However others, like the market board think that “banning” dissenting voices and creating a power-voting block on the non-profit organization that owns and governs this land, the St. Norbert foundation is the way to go. It is not a neighbourly nor communitarian way but it gets them what they want.
To give an example of an awful moment just before a contentious vote, an elder in the community stood up and said to me, “I’ll slap you in the head.” It seems like a comic-tragedy now. But at the time it was truly awful, as was the victim-blaming of other board members who were in denial that it had even happened even though they were right in the room at the time!
Yes, it has hurt me personally to see individuals devolve to this, and groupthink take over, to lose close personal friends. And it has certainly hurt my business Aurora Farm to lose this important revenue stream. At the same time it forced me to expand and find so many other welcoming opportunities. Still, it was wrong. Most hurtful was when I found out through the grapevine that the market had handed out a letter to all of the other vendors explaining their version of why I had been kicked out. Obviously, it was a one-sided and I say, manipulative letter. Many other vendors have quietly complained to me. Even more quietly as they know now that if a vendor raises issues, they will simply be kicked out. And another happy vendor will take their place.
If you have read this far and consider speaking out as a friend of the market, please contact the following people: Marilyn Firth, Bruce Berry, Phil Velhuis, Bob Roehle, Sandy Fox, Jean Guy Cote, Lori Redd, Hermann Grauer, Rob MacLeod.
The only way way to stop bullies is with community pressure.
Thanks for “listening.”