TIMMINS -- As the Downtown Timmins BIA kicked off this year's ‘Urban Park’ market with the ring of a bell, northern farmers took it as a sign of resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many, like Nicole Graham and her husband, Allen, worried COVID-19 would leave food markets closed, which made it all the more of a relief as the market joined others across the province in returning for another season.

“We put in 12 acres of garden, so we’re going ‘Do we take the leap? Where do we sell this if markets don’t open?’” said Graham. “But we were happy to hear that they all opened up.”

Graham said as she’s taken her farm, Graham Acres, to markets in Timmins, Iroquois Falls and Kirkland Lake, she has seen the effort put into adhering to physical distancing and hygiene standards.

Communities have been passionately supporting local businesses, she said, including her farm's meat products during the province’s economic lockdown.

Noella Rinaldo, the Downtown Timmins BIA’s executive director, said markets will be crucial in supporting local producers through the crisis.

“I think if there’s one thing that people understood during COVID, it’s that food security is very important,” Rinaldo said. “So supporting local and supporting our farmers, it’s very important that we do this.”

Aside from the pandemic, farmer Marion Veens said the high temperatures this summer have taken a toll on vegetable production, since plants react to the heat by growing out their leaves instead of their produce.

That will contribute to a tough year ahead for her business, Sunrise Orchards and Produce, Veens said. Having open food markets means an opportunity to battle through both the health and economic crisis.

“Now that the markets have opened ... we’re happy and as long as people keep their safe distance, we’re a go.”