Serious questions about commercial food growth and consumption have been impossible to ignore.
The fodder of award winning documentaries and even daytime television, those questions eventually gave way to a widespread pastoral ideal of modern day living.
And as the zeitgeist became decidedly earthy, farmers’ markets became a mainstay of communities across North America.
Kelowna’s, in particular, flourished.
As its proponents say, it’s one of the biggest and most successful markets of its kind in B.C..
That is apparent from the hustle and bustle of the market’s signature Saturday—but could it be a victim of its own success?
In recent months, plans for two “Granville Island” style markets have been announced to the public. From a distance it looked like a boon to foodies and farm-friendly folk, but a divide among farmers was revealed and a number are making plans to part ways with the market in favour of something new, in the months ahead.
To get a better idea of what’s coming down the pike, staff reporter Kathy Michaels speaks to the farmers who will fuel those enterprises, a new venture and the developers working to bring their own visions of a healthy community to life.
Tapping in to a new way of life
Lambert Schmalz is nothing short of passionate when he speaks about the space rumoured to be the future home of the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market.
“It will be unique—one of a kind,” said the force behind the project dubbed by others as a “Granville Island style” development on the corner of Springfield and Benvoulin roads.
It’s a title Schmalz isn’t keen on adopting. In city documents that lay out the project, his team describes Mission Crossing as a “permanent market, oriented to access a series of mixed use buildings that celebrate Kelowna’s historic agriculture and artisan community.”
When he gets talking, the project takes on an even dreamier quality. He’s envisioning Tuscany and other European regions known for their traditions, influence on high culture and cuisine taking shape on some prime B.C. real estate.
It’s a vision in progress, but Schmalz knows just how to bring it to reality.
“The company we hired to (design) this is the best in the west—they do work in India and China, too—but they’re the best,” said Schmalz, listing accomplishments like Sparkling Hill Resort in the North Okanagan and Whistler village to the design team’s credit. Both, he explained, are rich with character and detail and if all goes well, Mission Crossing will be similar in style, if not scope.
As for the particulars, it’s early yet, but Schmalz has plans for a wine library on the site that’s a stone’s throw from the Mission Greenway. There would also be artisan bread and cheese makers and, of course, the farmers.
All of it would be situated on an eight-acre parcel of land that’s divided into two sections—one for the permanent structures, another for the farmers’ market.
It’s the type of design Schmalz said the Agricultural Land Commission ate up with a spoon three years ago when he first ran it past them, but the project was caught up in a frustrating net of red-tape at the municipal level.
“I have one thing working in my favour, I have low blood pressure. So, when I go to City Hall, I become normal,” he said, adding quickly that the building department is great.
But, given the fact he’s built numerous landmarks in the region—he took out his first building permit in 1957—the difficulty he faced in getting the concept through the first leg of the approval process has been surprising.
It’s why he won’t estimate when the project will be finished.
The land for a farmers’ market will likely be completed by next summer, but the indoor portion may take awhile longer.
“We only got zoning approval Monday,” said Schmalz’s business partner and son Tom, each time he was asked for a completion date.
And they know they’re behind the eight-ball.
Much to the surprise of the Schmalzes, who struggled to get their project through countless hoops over the course of several years, another market was brought to the public sphere months ago and is fast approaching a completion date.
“They rolled out the red carpet (for him),” said Schmalz, indicating that it was a mystifying chain of events.
Gary Tebbutt has no doubt that Urban Square will be a success, regardless of what’s happening elsewhere.
He’s been singing the development’s praises in the public sphere for the last few months, and the feedback has “literally been overwhelming.”
“The waiting list of the people we have that are substantial businesses wanting to participate in the indoor market is somewhere in the area of 90,” he said.
The three-hectare site, which includes an existing 3,345-square-metre building from BC Tree Fruits, will offer an indoor market, outdoor market, office space, restaurants and brewery.
Its scope is just as vast as Mission Crossing, but the vision differs in that it has a grittier, urban image.
“Historical buildings do better than new buildings. Part of the charm is their age and the eclectic decor,” he said.
Plans to four-lane Clement Avenue will also place his market on a main artery of the downtown.
Tebbutt is also a lot more comfortable with the Granville Island comparison. Throw in a parallel to Pike Place Market in Seattle or Oxbow in Napa Valley, and he’s good with that, too.
He’s been to them all, and they all have informed the planning of Urban Square.
“There’s just huge popularity to those markets. The sales revenue they get per square foot is more than double that of most regional malls,” he said.
“People want to meet who’s preparing their food, who’s growing their food and know whether there’s quality in their food.”
It’s the type of yearning that’s sparked a market shift.
More people are moving away from bulk shopping and buying the ingredients for their meals just a day in advance. It’s the norm in many European and Asian cultures.
“I think that the other thing you can’t understate is the social interaction and social gathering that these public markets create in their communities,” said Tebbutt.
“One of the things they look for at Granville Island is vendors who will have an activity in the vendor outlet area. Whether that’s chopping, cutting or cooking, animation is a big part of the market’s success.”
At Pike Place market, the fish thrower is a community staple and has drawn in tourists from across the globe.
Tebbutt said they’re already in talks with quality vendors, who will be able to bring something like that to the table.
Urban Square plans are coming together quickly.
Tebbutt said they’re planning an opening date of next May.
“For our schedule, which would include being ready not only with a renovated market for indoor vendors, but also outdoor portion for farmers market or the co-op, we need to start work by November,” he said.
Tebbutt has also said in the past he would have welcomed the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market to the outdoor space available on site, but the project is not reliant on them.
He’s not concerned about their decision to not follow his lead, nor is he concerned about the competition.
“I’m really a strong believer in the free enterprise system and the law of supply and demand,” he said. “The repurposing of a historically significant building is a plus to the entire community downtown.”
Are two markets better than one?
Kelowna residents may want to access fresh, healthful foods, more than ever before, but whether the demand is high enough to warrant the creation of two large-scale, year-round markets remains to be seen.
Coun. Robert Hobson offered some words of caution Monday, when a zoning change for Missing Crossing was granted.
“I love (Urban Square), I have to admit,” he said. “But (Mission Crossing) is an area where a lot of people want to be.
“I wish (the farmers) every success, but I’m a little unhappy to see the break-up in the organization of farmers and crafters. If they don’t pull together, none of these groups may succeed.”
Read the agricultural sections of the Seattle, Portland and San Francisco media outlets and you’ll soon learn that Hobson wasn’t just being a downer. Sometimes there really can be too much of a good thing.
Supply in those cities stripped demand by the mid-2000s, leaving farmers roaming from one stop to another, looking for some way to get a leg up.
That’s crippled markets in even the most agriculture friendly areas. According to a study by Oregon State University, for example, 62 farmers’ markets opened in Oregon from 1998 to 2005, and 32 failed.
Closer to home, the odds haven’t been much better for entrepreneurial market owners, according to Martin Miller, the newly elected president of the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market.
“In the last 20 years Kelowna has had 12 markets start and not work out,” he said. “In the last couple of years two markets died in Rutland after a couple of weeks.”
By his estimate, there’s power in numbers.
He has 45 years of experience and add that number to experience logged by some of the others involved in leading the market, and you’ll come up with hundreds of years of expertise.
“You need an organization with people who have the knowledge,” he said.
Someone with a slightly sunnier view about widening the opportunities for local growers is former farmers’ market president Wolf Wesle.
He thinks there’s more than enough business to support Okanagan growers.
“This town is pretty big and spread out, so maybe two markets will make it more convenient for people to shop local, rather than go to Costco or the Wholesale place.”
From what he’s heard, Granville Market food sales represent around two per cent of the total dollars spent on groceries throughout the region.
The Kelowna Farmers and Crafters’ Market lays claim to 0.5 per cent of the community’s grocery budget.
“Maybe the two markets together would make up for one per cent of total sales,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction, anyway.”