The award-winning Farmers’ Market has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the Valley more than two decades ago.
Besides drawing more patrons and vendors, the CVFMA has added a mid-week market, a downtown evening market and created a bursary for new farmers. This year, the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets recognized it as the best large market of the year (61-plus vendors per week).
In a Tuesday update to Courtenay council, CVFMA executive director Vickey Brown said the mid-week market has maxed out at 31 vendors on England Avenue, where hundreds of people gather on Wednesday mornings in the summer.
“Last year, the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market, all of our markets combined, facilitated more than $1.2 million in direct sales to local food producers,” she said, noting the proliferation of markets throughout B.C. “Farmers’ markets have exploded in the last five years or so.”
Brown said markets have a huge economic impact on communities — in terms of job creation and business development — and on the farm community as a whole. They also generate sales for neighbouring businesses.
“When you host the Wednesday market, that typically draws between 400 and 600 people to the downtown core. If each of them spends $20 that’s a decent amount of money coming to downtown businesses.”
Brown notes a social benefit associated with markets, which act as a meeting place for people.
“There’s a lot of synergy that happens at a farmers’ market,” she said.
In conjunction with the BCAFM and the provincial government, the CVFMA runs a nutrition coupon program. Each week, more than 60 families and 20 seniors are given $15 worth of coupons to spend at the market.
“That brings a whole new set of people who may or may not make it out to the Farmers’ Market, or maybe not able to afford it,” Brown said.
A downtown Thursday evening market has been added this year, as has a Saturday market shuttle to the Exhibition Grounds on Headquarters Road.
The CVFM membership consists of 96 vendors, 56 of whom are meat and vegetable farmers.
“Those 56 farmers generated more than $600,000 in revenue directly from the market last year on just over 1,200 acres of land,” Brown said.
The Saturday winter market has become an indoor/outdoor affair at the Native Sons Hall, which Brown said has been “bursting at the seams.” Last season, it had a weekly average of about 45 vendors.
Also last year, the association gave a pair of $500 bursaries to new farmers. One used the money to install irrigation and the other used it to expand production.
The association is still looking for a permanent space that could host a year-round market.
For more information visit www.cvfm.ca.