Feast Up by Fronting Up to The Pemberton Farmers Market, Wednesdays

For a true taste of Pemberton, get thee to the Pemberton Farmers Market this summer!

Operated by the Pemberton Farmers Institute, Pemberton’s oldest organization, the Farmers Market already has 17 vendors signed up for the 2012 season. (In 2009, there were 9 vendors, with only 3 being farmers, so the Pemberton Farmers Market has definitely hit its stride.)

Market co-manager Niki Vankerk says, “strawberries are busting out right now, blueberries are on the way, salad greens and spinach have been flowing. Tomatoes are just around the corner and every week there will be new veggies to drool over.” Additional vendors will be coming on, too, as the growing season progresses.

We asked market co-managers Niki Vankerk and Shireen Sumariwalla to fill us in on what’s been going on in prep for this market season. Shireen was juggling a weekend of back-to-back markets, but luckily, Niki eked out a few minutes to face down a Choose Pemberton inquisition.

VanKerk, in yellow, is also the logistics savvy behind the Slow Food Cycle Sunday.

What’s the connection between the Farmers Market and the Pemberton Farmers Institute?

The Farmers Institute manages /operates the Farmers Market, with the 2 co-managers being PFI members and some of the base costs of the  market being funded by the Farmers Institute.  All vendors that want to sell at the market become PFI members for the year to be able to take part.

How many vendors are signed up for the Farmers Market this year? It seems to be really growing…

We have just started the season and have about 17 signed up so far.  Some will not start until later in the growing season and will sign up then so we expect at least the same as last year and likely another 10 from the amount of interest we have had so far from new vendors.

How big a deal has it been, to have gotten funding support from the Village/SLRD and other grants?

We have being running this incarnation of the market for 4 years now and in the past 3 years the Village and SLRD have both contributed towards our operating costs.  This year we were able to secure a large grant from Vancity so did not ask the SLRD for funding, and the Village is contributing by helping with the labor costs incurred by moving to our new location and getting the ‘market square’ concept off the ground.

Where does that put us, in terms of scale, compared to other markets in the region?

We are still relatively small compared to our neighbours in Vancouver, but we do have a fairly rare statistic of having had about 50% of the vendors be actual farmers.  Many of the markets around here are heavier on the artisan and crafters, who add great value to the market experience, however we want to stay focused on the food production, given our great assets in this valley.

Why did it take so long for Pemberton to get a Farmers Market with traction?

We have hosted many markets over the years, in the lot by the AG Foods, where we are again now in front of the Centennial Café.  They have ebbed and flowed along with the farmers of the day’s interest and time.  I think this time around we have a few volunteers that really put some structure into the market and found some funding to build a brand.  It helps to have a few people involved who are not farmers themselves, as the farmers tend to get really busy right around late June – Thanksgiving and don’t always have time to deal with vendor applications, putting up sandwich board signs and arranging insurance.

What was it, that gave it the oomph it needed, to build that critical mass? Do you attribute it to the PA system and the Glee Club singers?

We have more market garden farmers in the area that are interested in the market, we have a more consistent presence with branded signage/advertising and we are working on creating more buzz with the new location.  The music is a great addition although many markets in Vancouver that are wildly successful don’t allow amplified music, so that can’t be the secret ingredient.  I think people are getting more educated and interested in where their food comes from so the customers are driving some of the popularity as well.

How many people came out to the first Market of the season last week? 

We don’t have a system in place to count customers so I’m not sure, but there were only 9 vendors at our first market last year, and 3 of them were farmers.  So we are definitely busting out of the gates this year.

What is the food to craft ratio? That seems to be something Farmers Markets struggle with…

We try to maintain 50% farmers to artisan/prepared foods.  Artisans and crafters do add some diversity and interest in the market but we want to make sure that we are showcasing the farming as it is such an important part of our area’s culture and history, as well as a current industry that is only growing in popularity.

Who can get a table/become a vendor? Are there any restrictions?

We focus on food production and local vendors.  If there are gaps in product lines we will consider vendors from outside of the Pemberton and Area C.  All vendors need to apply and follow required Health Guidelines as well as become Farmers institute members when they are accepted.

What’s the motivation behind the new location? What prompted the grant application, and what does that mean?

We are growing in size and have always considered various areas of town.  The Pemberton Valley Supermarket parking lot was a great place to start out – it had a lot of aspects that were important to a start up market.  Now that we are growing and have more vendors, we’d like to increase the number of shoppers that come – visibility is a huge reason for moving out to Frontier.  The Village approached us to consider this location and we were able to find funding to support the operational budget of the market so we could put our Farmers institute funding toward buying amenities that would make that location work for us.  The benefit to the community is two-fold – they get a great new visible place to shop for local goods and the space is available to any community group for bookings.  All the amenities have been donated to the Village and we hope to keep building momentum for that area to eventually have a permanent structure built.

What do local vendors, who also go to Whistler, Squamish and Vancouver markets, like about the Pemby one?

The Pemberton Market is in our own front yard, so travelling to and from the market is a breeze compared to getting up at 4am to go to Trout Lake in Vancouver.  While the revenues are certainly lower than some of the other markets (for now) this is still a popular place for the vendors, and we saw that as many decided to continue with the Pemberton Market on Wednesday evenings even after Whistler opened a second market on the same evening last year.

There is something nice about selling your products in your own town to your neighbours.

Are you guys doing it just as a community service or is actually good business?

The Farmers Market itself does not aim to make a profit and the co-managers are volunteering their time for all the lead up, organizing etc with a small stipend for the time spent at the market on the Wednesdays.  We certainly hope it is good business for the vendors themselves, and also know that there is a great spill over benefit to the surrounding businesses when people congregate at a farmers market.

It’s been unseasonally shitty weather of late and my garden is looking tragic. What’s in season right now? What can people look forward to over the next few weeks?

Strawberries are busting out right now, blueberries are on the way, of course salad greens and spinach have been flowing.  Tomatoes are just around the corner and every week there will be new veggies to drool over, so make sure you keep coming out!

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