Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Growth industry: Farmers markets are enjoying a rosy new revival

Thanks to the local eating movement

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There are more than 40 of them across the province, offering fresh produce and other homespun goods in communities from Vita to The Pas. And that's just the markets that are part of the provincial farmers markets association -- a group that didn't exist 10 years ago.

In the years since the local food movement went from fringe to mainstream, farmers markets have been sprouting up all over Manitoba.

"There's so much more awareness of our local food systems and what it means to be buying local and supporting our farmers," said Jennifer Morrison, chairwoman of the Farmers' Markets Association of Manitoba. Morrison said her group gets emails monthly from communities wanting to start their own market.

A decade ago -- before bestsellers such as Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which turned a sometimes-critical eye on the global food chain, and The 100-Mile Diet, which helped a B.C. couple's food experiment become a global dietary phenomenon -- farmers markets in the province were few and their pool of shoppers sparse.

The farm-to-fork movement's rapid growth helped spur greater access to, and enthusiasm for, local grub, whether harvested in a community garden or featured at a grocery store. Local eating now figures into community projects across the continent. Dig In Manitoba, for one, has attracted more than 420 families to take part in a local food program this summer.

The movement has also sparked a widespread and still-evolving discussion on what it means to eat sustainably. Some critics question the environmental accuracy of measurements such as "food miles," and argue local food is often no less -- and sometimes more -- emissions-intensive than conventional farming.

But the skepticism doesn't seem to have swayed farmers-market proponents or interfered with the growth in markets around Manitoba. Local eating's popularity has helped with that growth, organizers say, but for many, the allure of a perfectly ripe tomato or freshly plucked head of lettuce and the chance to chat with the person who grew it is as much of a draw.

When Pat Herman helped start the Pineridge Hollow Farmers Market northeast of Winnipeg eight years ago, "there was nothing else out this way," she said. Today, the original market of 14 vendors has maxed out at 48 and draws 1,000 people weekly. And it's no longer alone in the neighbourhood: Markets have popped up in area communities including Lockport, Selkirk and Beausejour.

Fresh produce is first and foremost for visitors, said Herman.

In Winnipeg, markets in West Kildonan and River Heights are in their third year. The Gas Station Theatre Farmers Market, around since 2008, now features a licensed patio and weekly concert performances.

The city's newest market, at Wolseley's R.A. Steen Community Centre, started this summer with a Teulon-area vegetable farmer who runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Jonathan Stevens delivers boxes of organic produce to more than 200 customers. Since subscribers have to pick up their veggie boxes at a central location, Stevens thought that might be a good basis for a farmers market location.

"There was a lot of interest," said Stevens. "I think it was a perfect neighbourhood."

There's a range of the usual vendors: fresh vegetables and fruit, stalls with baking and crafts. There is also a growing contingent of regular visitors. Awareness of food sustainability helped spur interest, he said. But for many CSA members, it's about the produce. "A lot of people, they just like the idea of really fresh vegetables, and knowing it's organic and that they're going to be forced to have vegetables every week," he laughed.

The community of Treherne is another market newcomer this year. "It's a small start," said Pat Sparling, one of the organizers -- a couple of fruit and veggie stalls, beeswax candles, a table of gluten-free baking and occasional stalls with fresh-cut flowers and more baked goods -- but it's enough for the area. "I think that the attendance and support from the community has been terrific," said Sparling, who estimates they've been drawing a couple of hundred people each market.

Farmers markets may be experiencing a revival, but the concept is nothing new: Market days and street markets are a long-standing tradition worldwide, and markets were popping up and fading out in Manitoba long before the phrase "buy local" was common parlance. But some proponents say the latest revival has come with a more supportive shift in the minds of shoppers.

Treherne last tried a farmers market about 20 years ago, said Sparling, but that market struggled to make a go of it. "They had the vendors, but they didn't have enough buyers," she said. Those who came were often seeking a deal, which is hard to come by when the sellers are operating under small profit margins.

"People were coming for a bargain. Well, you can't grow produce or bake or whatever and just sell it cheap."

One of the struggles for farmers markets today is finding enough regular vendors to service all of them. For newcomers, there's also the challenge of recognizing that even in supportive communities, farmers markets are slow growers. St. Norbert might be the granddaddy of Manitoba farmers markets today, but on its first day 24 years ago, it was just eight vendors on a grassy lot.

"It took a long time to grow, and it took a lot of effort," said Herman of the now-established Pineridge Hollow market. But after years of working to line up regular vendors and shoppers, "we finally are getting people to call us and say, 'We'd like to be in your market,'" she said. "We feel pretty good about that."

lindsey.wiebe@freepress.mb.ca

Markets in the neighbourhood

Looking for a farmers market near you? Here's a sample of the ones in and around Winnipeg:

 

Wellness Institute Farmers Market: Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Front entrance of Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks General Hospital, 1075 Leila Ave. Runs until Sept. 18.

FortWhyte Farms Market: Tuesdays, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. FortWhyte Alive, 1961 McCreary Rd. Runs until Aug. 28.

Wolseley Farmers Market: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. R.A. Steen Community Centre, 980 Palmerston Avenue. Runs until Nov. 1.

Transcona Biz Farmers Market: Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 135 Regent Ave. West, Transcona Centennial Square. Runs until Aug. 30.

Gas Station Village Farmers Market: Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., River and Osborne. Runs until Sept. 27.

River Heights Farmers Market: Fridays, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. River Heights Community Centre, corner of Oak Street and Grosvenor Avenue. Runs until Sept. 28.

Main Street Farmers Market: Fridays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., 865 Main St. at Euclid Avenue (Neechi Commons parking lot). Runs until Sept. 14.

Red River Farmers Market: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Red River Exhibition Park, 3977 Portage Ave. and Perimeter Highway. Runs until Sept. 22.

WKMCC Urban Farmers Market: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., West Kildonan Memorial Community Centre, 346 Perth Ave. Runs until Sept. 1.

St. Norbert Farmers Market: Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., until Oct. 27. Wednesdays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., until Sept. 26. 3514 Pembina Hwy., 1 km south of the Perimeter on Hwy. 75.

Pineridge Hollow Farmers Market: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Off Garven Road on Heatherdale Road North, adjacent to Bird's Hill Park. Runs until Sept. 15.

 

For a full list of farmers markets in Manitoba, visit the Farmers' Markets Association of Manitoba website, www.fmam.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 18, 2012 J16

History

Updated on Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 7:58 AM CDT: Tweaks head, fixes cutline.

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