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Cumberland market looks to expand operations

Organizers hope to keep Sunday event in the downtown core
The farmer’s market in Cumberland wants to expand but keep the Sunday event downtown. Photo by Mike Chouinard

The Cumberland Farmers’ Market is growing, and it needs to think about more space.

Organizers still wish to keep the Sunday market near downtown though.

Twila Skinner, general manager of the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market, spoke to council about their Cumberland plans at the Feb. 28 meeting. The organization oversees the Saturday market, which alternates through the seasons between the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds and Native Sons Hall, and the Wednesday market in downtown Courtenay, along with the Cumberland event.

She said the Cumberland market has grown a lot since 2016 when it started. They are looking at different site options but hope to stay downtown.

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One plan could see the main street closed to vehicle traffic on the Sunday, though this also comes with logistical questions such as the current bus route and how this could be affected.

The market, along with the other local ones, as Skinner said, helps provide local food for customers and an opportunity for local growers, as most vendors come from within 20 km.

“When you talk about the 100-mile diet, we blow that out of the water,” she said.

While the market has some artisans and crafters, Skinner pointed out the focus has always been on farmers and fishers. Even with COVID challenges such as slightly slower attendance numbers, she said many people have come to places like Cumberland to support the market, as sales have been steady.

“Our sales for the most part have remained strong,” she said.

Skinner estimated the benefits from the markets could be worth as much as $3 million each year, which includes not only direct sales but indirect sales such as a local baker buying eggs from a local farmer to make products for the market.

“That’s not an insignificant number,” she added.

Last summer, they were able to extend the Cumberland event by two weeks. Typically, they have 10 vendors with a maximum of 15, but the hope for this summer is to expand the site while still keeping it in downtown Cumberland. This might include more involvement from local artisans, Skinner said.

“We’re looking forward to working with the village as well as the downtown businesses,” she added.

The organization has also worked with other groups such as LUSH Valley Food Action Society on programs such as a coupon program to help families struggling during the downturn from the pandemic.

Members of council were sympathetic to the group’s plans and the wish to stay in the downtown area.

“The farmers’ market is close to my heart,” Coun. Vickey Brown said.

While there were questions about other locations, Skinner said accessibility could be an issue for many people who need to be able to walk to the downtown.

Mayor Leslie Baird summed up the market’s role for the community on Sundays during the summer.

“It’s quite a community hub now. I look forward to it growing more,” she said.

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