With restaurants closed, Victoria urban farm shifts focus
Published Saturday, April 18, 2020 4:28PM PDT
Topsoil’s new space includes 15,000 square feet to grow fresh produce and offers more sun exposure. Apr. 7, 2017 (CTV Vancouver Island)
VANCOUVER -- The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in B.C. and around the world, but some people are more affected than others.
For a Victoria business used to selling vegetables to restaurants, making ends meet during the pandemic - with many usual customers closed or doing decreased take-out business - is a particular challenge.
That's why Topsoil, an urban agriculture company that grows produce in underutilized urban space around Greater Victoria, has expanded its farm market this year.
Physical-distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus left Topsoil and other farmers in the capital region with an abundance of unclaimed vegetables, said owner and operator Chris Hildreth.
"We had to really reassess our entire production, our entire season, really, really quickly," Hildreth said.
Topsoil's farm stand at Dockside Green, just off the Galloping Goose Trail near Harbour Road, isn't new. The company has operated it in previous years, but never as a primary outlet for its produce or for products from other Vancouver Island businesses.
Among the items available from non-Topsoil producers are locally roasted coffee beans from Cafe Fantastico and fresh eggs from Lockwood Farms.
"So, they have an outlet to sell to the public as well," Hildreth said.
Shopping at the market during the COVID-19 pandemic is a highly regimented procedure. Walk-in and bike-in customers line up at the entrance, standing specifically marked spaces six feet apart to ensure proper physical distancing.
One customer is allowed into the market at a time, where they can browse the available produce and place an order with a Topsoil employee. That person, wearing gloves, is the only person who will touch produce for the entire day.
The Topsoil employee then brings the customer's purchase to the payment table, where the customer can pay by tap, though cash is also accepted. A separate Topsoil employee handles payments.
The market also has plans to begin offering drive-through service so customers can stay in their cars while they pick up their produce.
The farm stand opened Friday and quickly sold out.
"We had to re-stock everything and then we sold out of that," Hildreth said. "It's really nice to see everyone having spring fever, wanting fresh products."
Topsoil is also offering to grow "micro-gardens" of fresh vegetables and deliver them to customers' doors still in soil.
"All you've got to do is harvest," Hildreth said. "They are ready to go. They're fully grown and it's a one-time deal for us to deliver. And then, you guys get fresh kale, greens, chard, mizuna, right at your fingertips for your family."
The market is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.