The 11th edition of the International Public Markets Conference took place in Toronto, one of the world’s most diverse cities, June 8-10, 2023. Attendees from around the world had the opportunity to discuss many of the most pressing issues in the field of public markets including health, local economic development, food systems, climate resilience, and more.
Inspired by the event, as well as the advocacy work of Market City TO and the conference’s local advisory group, the City of Toronto announced an official Public Markets Week, June 11–17, 2023, to celebrate market vendors across the city. We’re proud to see the lasting impact hosting the conference can have on a host city and excited that Toronto’s more than 100 markets will be getting more attention as a result.
This year’s conference theme was Setting a New Table and programming was curated around supporting market leaders in putting promises of a fair food system, inclusive economies, and social cohesion into action. With over 370 market operators, developers, and thought leaders in attendance, the conference facilitated discussions on the role of public markets in supporting local economies and celebrated market managers and vendors—especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color leaders. Participants left with new strategies inspired by Toronto's diverse array of markets as well as new friends and a renewed sense of mission.
Unique social events at Underpass, St. Lawrence and Stackt Markets allowed market leaders to reconnect, share ideas, and celebrate.
The opening plenary, “Unlocking the Potential of Public Markets Across Canada” highlighted various local initiatives that are using diverse models to fill local community needs where there are municipal or provincial gaps. Notable speakers, including Janice Bartley, the founder of the Foodpreneur Lab, emphasized the importance of promoting equity in the Canadian food ecosystem by leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs of all races and genders.
Participants shared best practices through a variety of session types, including plenaries, breakout panels, unconferences, and more.
The conference featured engaging breakout sessions that covered diverse topics such as markets as business incubation, planning for future shocks, and the role of markets in transforming public spaces into vibrant community destinations. Attendees exchanged ideas on how to adapt to stay relevant and bring more diverse voices into the conversation, and explored themes of equity, health, and stimulating local economies.
Participants also took part in collaborative discussions, known as "unconferences," where they shared their own experiences in the role markets can play in the circular economy, the untapped potential of nutrition assistance and incentive programs, and ensuring markets generate economic opportunity rather than gentrify their surroundings. These sessions, coupled with dedicated networking sessions, led to exciting new approaches in tackling common challenges and facilitated the exchange of best practices.
Participants had the opportunity to learn from Toronto itself through mobile workshops and tours at marketplaces and food initiatives throughout the city.
To enhance their understanding, participants embarked on tours of various markets across Toronto, including the Afro-Caribbean Farmers’ Market, in the newly incorporated Little Jamaica-Afro Caribbean Cultural District, and Market 707, a prepared-food market constructed out of upcycled shipping containers in the Alexandra Park neighborhood. These memorable experiences provided opportunities for in-depth conversations on how markets can revitalize public spaces and generate sustainable economic opportunities. By experiencing Toronto's diverse public markets firsthand, attendees gained valuable insights and practical strategies that any market can benefit from.
During the opening plenary, Project for Public Spaces announced the launch of the Market Cities Network, the first international forum for markets of all kinds and the people committed to their success.
This initiative brings together leading market advocates—including operators, NGOs, funders, researchers, and more—from around the world to create stronger and more resilient communities. By facilitating the exchange of best practices, the Market Cities Network hopes to unlock the great potential of markets, not just as crucial sources of food and goods, as well as exceptional sources of economic opportunity and cultural exchange.