Parksville Qualicum Beach area farmers put time and money into crops that are just now coming into fruition — product that was set to fill wicker baskets at busy and lively markets this spring.
Now, amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, farmers markets with music and samples are not going forward, but adjusted versions of them are. Qualicum Beach Farmers Market manager Launie Elves said the difference they make for local farmers is huge.
The QBFM has resumed operations for the past two weeks, after being shut down like many others across the province. However, the Ministry of Public Health and Safety now considers farmers markets to be an essential service.
“It’s a matter of them being here in a year — one of our farmers, maybe he will have to back to doing what he used to do,” said Elves. “All their hard work is going to waste, people need this.”
The QBFM is now operating at a limited capacity — 15 vendors line the street, selling only ‘essential’ product. Elves said people shouldn’t expect the typical farmers market experience, they should rather prepare to “come, shop, leave.”
Elves said she received huge blowback after announcing the farmers market would continue. In her eyes, the market is comparable to a grocery store — she’s not sure why people would view it so differently.
“This week, I actually haven’t had a horrible email or message, so that’s a positive,” she said. “The first week was pretty terrible, I had people basically telling me that I’m going to kill half of Qualicum Beach.”
Elves said although the 15-stall market has been a success so far, it’s not sustainable in the long term. Right now, she’s able to accommodate all local farmers, but she said more are coming. Some farmers have crops that are only now becoming available — they want a spot at the market, too. She’s planning on asking for more spots to be allowed by the town, in hopes that more local farmers will have a way to make money off of their food.
Dirk Becker, a vendor at the Errington Farmers Market, echoed Elves’s sentiments about the need for local markets.
The EFM is set to open on their usual date of May 2, with fewer vendors and social distancing protocol in place.
Becker said he’s seen some negative response to the opening, with some people suggesting that farmers sell straight from their property. Becker said that isn’t sustainable for many — that a weekly market is imperative for local farmers who sell their products there to make a living.
“You’re asking the overworked, underpaid and aging farmer to do yet one more thing, to be yet more adaptable,” he said.
In Becker’s eyes, if the farmers market were to not go forward, it would mean “disaster” for the local agriculture industry.
In addition to the potential economic impact, Becker also points to the sense of community a farmers market can bring.
“As much as we understand that people need to be safe distancing and self-isolating, there still needs to be some means of humans interacting with each other,” he said. “So when we get this extreme with shutting things down, you’re forcing people, you’re preventing people, from having even the most basic interaction.”