Public Markets

November 21st, 2020

TFPC Public Market Project

The TFPC believes that markets are a vital part of the neighbourhood-based food distribution models that increase access to fresh, nutritious and locally produced food and support the development of sustainable food systems.  

Traditionally during the summer season (May to October), the City of Toronto has approximately 100+ outdoor markets (46 Good Food Markets, 48 farmers markets and 14 community food markets) that operate in public parks, city facilities, public or private parking lots, religious or educational institutions, community hubs and private spaces. These markets play a vital role in providing access to fresh, local high-quality produce to tens of thousands of residents, and the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and small business owners in Ontario. Generating economic activity and strengthen regional food systems so critical to ensuring the city and regional resilience. 

What‘s a Public Food Market? 

A public market is a year-round or seasonal, carefully crafted, intentional, and diverse medley of locally owned and locally operated shops, stalls, and “day tables.” While sometimes privately operated, public markets exist to fulfill a public purpose and showcase a community’s unique character and culture while serving people’s everyday shopping needs.

For centuries, public markets have been the centres of communities and urban settlements. Depending on the region and people’s needs, different forms of markets have emerged: fish markets in coastal communities, fresh food markets, merchants markets, craft and antique markets, art markets, and flea markets. More recently, with people cooking less at home, prepared food markets are a trend. However, there is a lack of understanding of the term public markets, for example in Toronto, most people will equate the word public market with farmers markets, which are one form of a public market.

Benefits of public markets:

Public Markets are community destinations that serve civic, social and physical needs. They enable regular rituals of connection between diverse people that lead to an increased sense of belonging. Public Markets add value to the public realm and complete streets. And when done properly they are the ultimate community development tool as they bring together social, economic and environmental impacts.


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Toronto Public Markets project

In 2015, a group of public market organizations and managers, supported by the Toronto Food Policy Council, created the Public Food Markets Working Group, a volunteer-led initiative to develop solutions for the challenges that public markets face in the city.  TFPC believes that public markets are a vital part of the neighbourhood-based food distribution models that have the ability to:

  • Increase equitable access to fresh, nutritious, culturally appropriate, locally produced food for all residents, especially those most impacted by food insecurity.
  • Support local small and medium enterprises and enable economic activities at a neighborhood level, resulting in more inclusive economies. 
  • Strengthen the public food-distribution infrastructure (short supply chains) that advance sustainable food systems, climate action and regional resilience.
  • Advance municipal local and international commitments advocating for the transformation to a more just and sustainable food system.  E.g., Toronto’s Food Charter, the Food Lens City of Toronto motion, the TransformTO climate action strategy, zero waste targets, circular economy targets) and international obligations with the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, and the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration. 

Snapshot of 2019 Toronto Public Markets

Currently, Toronto has more than 100+ Public Food Markets (PFM) built from the ground up by strong community champions or key anchor organizations. A large number operate in public parks, city facilities, public or private parking lots, religious or educational institutions, community hubs as well as private spaces. They embrace a diverse range of models, audiences and mandates that respond to residents’ needs, and in many cases deliver programs that address municipal gaps. 

These markets play a vital role in providing access to fresh, local high-quality and culturally diverse produce to tens of thousands of residents, and the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and small business owners in Ontario. Generating economic activity and strengthening regional food systems so critical to ensuring the city and regional resilience. 

However, the majority operate independently and have limited opportunities to collaborate and advocate for city support. More importantly, public food markets are not part of the municipal infrastructure nor embedded in city plans, policies or programs. 

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Where are Toronto Public Markets located? 

2019 City of Toronto interactive Public Markets map

As part of the Market Cities pilot project, Project for Public Spaces developed the first Toronto public market map using the 2019 data collected from surveys and research, Statistics Canada and other sources (Figure 2). Using QGIS open source software, the interactive map includes public market locations organized in various ways and a 1/2 and 1-mile travel distance. Besides city-related content such as wards, neighbourhoods, current and future transit lines, health centres, population density per km, area median income, immigrant population percentage, priority neighbourhoods, business improvement areas, and grocery stores. 

While we are confident that these are not all the public markets in Toronto, this is a first attempt to bring all these different types of public markets and their priorities together in one map and report.


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We have organized Toronto’s public markets into eight different types and identified the number of markets in each type. Municipal, Permanent, Semi-permanent, Temporary, Mobile, Market networks, Market districts, and wholesale market.  The types reflect the kinds of sites the markets operate and how often they run (recurrence). This approach to classify the different types of markets helps us identify the relationship between hard infrastructure and access to fresh food and economic opportunities for all residents, and makes a case for investment in public food infrastructure to be distributed equitably across the city.

This tool provides the opportunity to do a spatial analysis and highlights challenges and opportunities within our market system:

  • Public Markets are not distributed equitably across the city.
  • Many residents have to travel far to access fresh and locally produced food sold at public markets. Only a few pockets in the city are doing a good job of having public markets within ½ mile: Toronto-Danforth, a west section of York South-Weston ward along Western Road, has an adequate number of public markets within a half-mile radius. 
  • Public Markets and subway lines: Given the city and province commitment to transit-oriented development and intensification corridors, there is an opportunity to strengthen the support of public markets near transit corridors, and integrate public markets inside or close to the new subway station.
  • Public Markets and neighbourhoods improvement areas; As part of the approach to advance Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020, in 2014, the City designated 31 of its 140 neighbourhoods as neighbourhood improvement areas  that require focused resources and investments to thrive. These places are home to some of Toronto’s most diverse places rich in cultural pride and grassroots organizing. However, those neighbourhoods share many indicators of structural iniquity, with high rates of poverty, racial segregation and lack of proper housing and transit. Food security and access to fresh locally and culturally appropriate food are also problems presenting an opportunity for public markets to address those needs. 

Market  Cities Initiative

In early 2020, Toronto was selected as one of three pilot project cities as part of the Market Cities Initiative. The initiative, which is being led by Project for Public Spaces in partnership with HealthBridge Foundation of Canada and Slow Food International, has been established to advance a new vision for public markets systems at the scale of cities, regions, and beyond. Read the full Media Release

This initiative is supported by the Toronto Food Policy Council, City of Toronto Economic and Community Development, St. Lawrence Market, Foodshare Toronto and the Greenbelt Market Network. 

What is a Market City?

Market City is a term developed by Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and presented for the first time at the 9th Public Market Conference held in 2015 in Barcelona, an example of a Market City. The concept is dynamic and while Market Cities have some commonalities it is meant to adapt and respond to the local context


Early in 2019, Project for Public Spaces, in collaboration with the HealthBridge Foundation, Slow Food International, and the three cities participating in the Market Cities pilot project, developed a set of seven principles that characterize market cities. Full descriptions are included in the PPS Market Cities Report

Why is this work important? What we learnt from COVID 19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed issues that food-system and public-market advocates have been talking about for years. With its vulnerabilities, the current food-distribution system fails to provide equitable access to fresh food, and it limits access to the market for small and medium food businesses. This situation has been exacerbated during the pandemic, impacting more of those who were already experiencing food insecurity.

Lockdowns and mobility restrictions have also limited small and medium regional producers’ access to customers (1). Distribution plays a crucial role in transforming food systems, and Toronto, the most significant urban centre in the region, can take a lead role in influencing that change at a regional level. As the retail market share has become concentrated in fewer hands, supermarket chains have become the gatekeepers of the food system. As purchasers, they have control over producers’ and manufacturers’ products and prices as well as what products are offered to customers(.2)  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, supermarket chains have been able to maintain the supply of global food quite effectively and hide their vulnerabilities. However, incidents like President Trump banning the export of masks to Ontario, or a food system example like truckers unable to find places to eat or use the washroom while transporting food, migrant workers not being able to travel or enter Ontario, or the increasing number of floods and fires in California (major food producing and exporting area in the USA) show how political or environmental cross-border conflicts can impact our current food supply. This incidents builds the case for strengthening Ontario’s short supply chains and improving the regional supply of food and other related products

Toronto public markets have been heavily impacted by  COVID 19. On June 12, 2020, after much collaboration between Toronto Public Health, the Toronto Food Policy Council and Marina Queirolo, a food system & Public Market specialist, the City announced that farmers’ markets and fresh food markets would be allowed to re-open and now are part of the essential service list. Despite the green light to open farmers’ markets and fresh food markets, there are still a number of challenges impacting their operation. 

Initiatives like Market Cities will help us gather the information we need to advocate for the policy changes that will enable public food markets in our city to thrive and contribute to the resiliency of our city and region. At a municipal level cities can enable policies that strengthen existing food-distribution channels to address the structural power imbalances within the current food system. 

The City of Toronto’s role in advancing Market City TO is to be an enabler and an active promoter of private and public partnership opportunities. A funder or partner that helps secure financial support from government, foundations and the private sector. More importantly, a good partner that supports public markets across the city, contributing to the growth of the sector and its long-term health.

At the TFPC we believe that the solution to this pandemic crisis cannot exclude Public Markets from our food access strategies and recovery strategies. Public Markets, in all its various types,  are effective “short supply chains,” which not only support regional small and medium producers and entrepreneurs but can also address food access needs that conventional food supply chains do not serve. 


The Market Cities report outlines a set of six our interconnected recommendations which are organized in areas of focus. Each recommendation has five actions that would advance implementation of the work. 


Enable public markets to work more effectively. Increase knowledge and institutional capacity to better support public markets and demonstrate their impact.


Increase education about and promotion of public markets and their role in city building.


Support current and build new public markets to offer equitable access to both economic opportunities and fresh, locally produced culturally diverse food, especially for those most impacted by systemic marginalization.


Help managers, operators, vendors, and regulators realize the industry’s full potential by investing in their professional development.


Build the public market infrastructure to enable the delivery of local and culturally appropriate food.


Integrate public markets into city and regional strategies.

Full list of actions and recommendations Project for Public Spaces (PPS) Market Cities Report

If you are looking for more information or interested in being part of this project please reach out to Marina Queirolo, Public Markets Project lead


Anti_Racist Tool kit | March 2021

Market Cities Initiative Report | October 2020


Toward Market Cities: Strengthening Public Market Systems in Three North American Cities, Project for Public Spaces | October 2020

Toronto Public Markets types and COVID 19 impact | May 2020

Can Toronto become a Market City? How will it benefit market operators, residents and the city? | November 2019

Market Cities: Insights from our trip to London | June 2019


1 -Mihevc, J. (2020) Report on Emergency Food Preparedness and building urban food resilience. Prepared by Joe Mihevc for the City of Toronto.

2 – Steiman, J. (2019) Grocery Story. The promise of Food co-ops in the age of grocery giants. New society publishers.