Virtual Farmer’s Market teaches local youth about running a small business

Talbot Teen Centre, Cultivate volunteer group

Helping local businesses AND teaching youth about running a small business? That’s what the Ignite Youth Centre in St. Thomas is doing with the Cultivate Virtual Farmer’s Market.

Pre-COVID-19, the Ignite Youth Centre (formerly the Talbot Teen Centre) had a plan for creating a farm-to-table program that included gardening, planning, planting, harvesting, cooking, and creating items to sell at a farmer’s market. Unfortunately, the centre was forced to close mid-March, and had to re-evaluate their programming ideas.

Program manager Vicki Asher, thought it made sense to shift gears, and come up with a new way to bring youth back into the building. She tapped into her history with farmer’s markets and friendships with local farmers, and connected with many local vendors who were very supportive of the youth initiative.

Today, the Cultivate Virtual Farmer’s Market is an online, one stop, mid-week shopping solution offering an amazing selection of fresh, locally grown vegetables, fruits, cheese, fresh meats, honey, preserves, fish, breads, baked goods, prepared foods and more from St. Thomas and area farmers, growers and artisans.

Cultivate runs on the power of 18 youth volunteers, all of who applied to be a part of the market, were interviewed and received feedback from the Ignite Youth Centre staff. The youth volunteers have the opportunity to learn anything and everything associated with running a small business and each youth can decide how much they want to be involved. Asher notes that there’s a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, and some kids are more interested in the planning, some doing receiving and merchandising, and some meeting vendors and sorting orders.

Two “natural team leaders,” Seth and Darien, have been volunteering since the beginning and know everything that needs to be done, and can direct other volunteers.

Darien got involved because he wanted to get back into the community and help rebuild the local economy, as much as just wanting to get out of the house. Seth mentioned that his mom strongly encouraged him to volunteer, and once he had, he really enjoyed the opportunity to interact with customers. When asked what they had learned over the few months volunteering, Seth described working with spreadsheets, improving customer service, and marketing a business as his biggest takeaways.  Darien added that he’s learning how a small business operates, as well as flexing his problem-solving skills.

Both are working on updating their resumes, and are excited to be able to add these new leadership skills to help them going forward.

There’s been an overwhelming response from the community. Customers love the convenience of shopping online and then picking up their produce, and love the smiling faces of the youth. Of course, community members also love helping the youth and local farmers.

One vendor, Chris Devries of Common Ground Farm, says that: “The Virtual Farmer’s Market has really helped fill the gap when the St. Thomas market had to close. It’s a  really great platform that allows us to sell to a wide range of customers without the overhead” He has also had great experiences interacting with the youth volunteers: “Having the youth pitch in and help to get the market running is amazing.”

The market is open for shopping each week from Sunday 8:00am until Tuesday 11:59pm. Orders are then available for pick up on Thursday afternoons at The Talbot Teen Centre. Visit to shop now!

The Cultivate Virtual Farmer’s Market is supported by United Way Elgin Middlesex’s Local Love in a Global Crisis Fund.

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