The Lions Farmers Market, a Mississauga Central Lions Club fundraising project, is a throwback to an era when the community was largely about farming.
It began in 1975 under the name Square One Farmers Market because that’s where the Mississauga Central Lions Club began.
Manny Castellino, who has been managing the market for 12 years and has been with the Mississauga Central Lions Club for 32 years, recalls that organizers initially believed far too many people were spending too much time going from farm to farm, so a more practical solution was to corral farmers into one place.
“It worked out really well because the farmers came to the people. It went on from year to year and it became more successful,” noted Castellino.
It was rebranded in 2013 to Lions Farmers Market when it was moved from Square One to better represent what and how it represents the community. After several different locations, it found a full-time home at 3 Robert Speck Parkway on Sundays and on Wednesdays at Celebration Square. The weekly markets are open until the last week in October.
“The majority of our customers come from outside Mississauga,” Castellino said. “They’ve been coming for 40 years or more, right from the beginning. Most of our participants have also been with us since the inception. We now have third-generation farmers and vendors.”
The volume of vendors has decreased from about 40 to 20, mainly because some retired from farming and/or their families didn’t continue, Castellino said.
“I don’t know how much longer we can keep the market going, but I continue looking for real farmers if there are any left,” Castellino said.
What many of the customers don’t realize is that money collected from the vendors that pay rent for space to sell their goods is directed to various organizations in and around the community. Castellino said about $120,000 annually is generated from the market.
“We have about 35 organizations that we contribute to that help out many sides of the Mississauga community,” Castellino said.
He said money from the vendors helped to purchase a laser eye unit for the Trillium Health Partners Foundation.
Another organization that the Lions Farmers Market helps is the Lions Foundation Of Canada Guide Dogs in Oakville.
“All the Lions Clubs donate toward it, but we contribute a large sum to it every year,” Castellino said. “We train the blind person to look after the dog. It’s six-month project and it costs $25,000 per dog, which we give free of charge to the blind person.”
Castellino also pointed to the Mississauga Stroke Breakers Program, which takes place in the pool at Mississauga Valley Community Centre, as an organization that was started by the Lions Farmers Market. The therapeutic recreation is designed to helps stroke survivors.
“They are given all kinds of exercises and rehabilitated,” Castellino said. “Many of them have returned back to be fully functional, and now are volunteering to help incoming people who have suffered strokes. Every year, the program gets between 40-60 people coming to it.”
Erinoak Kids Centre, which provides treatment for children with physical and/or developmental disabilities, communication disorders and autism, also receives support.
“We’ve been supporting Erinoak Kids Centre for more than 30 years,” Castellino said.
Several children’s camps in the Muskoka region receive funds.
Overall, the funds help people of all ages.
To learn more about the Lions Farmers Market, visit www.lionsfarmersmarket.com.