The South Cariboo Farmers’ Market is likely to finish in the red this season due to the effects of COVID-19 but organizers say the season was still a success overall.
Manager Amanda Patterson said despite significantly fewer vendors, a slow start to the season and an outdoor venue, it’s been a “fantastic year” for the market, largely thanks to the community stepping up to support the local economy.
The market will run for two more Fridays, on Sept. 25 and Oct. 2.
“At the beginning of the year there was a lot of fear from the community as well as the vendors because of COVID but the community really showed up to support vendors and food security in our region,” Patterson said. “All the vendors are reporting good sales. The numbers (of vendors) are down because we can’t go inside but I think there’s quality in the vendors we have here.”
The market was declared an essential service when the pandemic swept the province last spring. As a member of the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM), the market has the mandate to be a food forwarded market with a minimum of 51 percent food-based based. It also works in partnership with the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre to provide publicly funded coupons to more than 25 families. The coupons, redeemable for fresh vegetables or fruits from any vendor at the market, have one of the highest uptakes per capita in the province, said Rita Giesbrecht, assistant market manager.
“It’s a very effective program that is a win for everybody, it puts local foods into the hands of local people,” said assistant manager Rita Giesbrecht.
In order to meet its obligations – the market must adhere to the standards of the BCAFM, the District of 100 Mile House, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the Cariboo Regional District – the market had to quickly adjust its operations.
Giesbrecht credits Patterson for responding quickly, by moving the market outdoors, offering vendors the option to register weekly – rather than monthly or yearly for the farmers’ market – and later on ensuring a fair balance between food and craft vendors when the market was allowed to expand. Crafters were given space on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Many new food vendors came on board this year, while the market also incorporated a one-day garlic festival to make up for the cancellation of the popular event in Lac La Hache, she added.
“We had to pivot so fast and so hard with COVID, everyone did,” Giesbrecht said. “Our community and our clientele is hugely supportive as well so they showed up and cooperated with everything we had put in place. Over the season we built up to a different definition of success from previous years.
“It just gave our market a bit more of profile with a range of vendors we didn’t have before. It just sort of opened things up a bit.”
Chanelle Sankey, of Hixon Hixon Falls Company in Quesnel, said the market was a great way to promote her product. “The community involved is great,” she said. “Lots of local support … there’s a lot more will to spend in farmers’ markets.”
The outdoor venue ultimately proved popular among passersby and locals, Patterson said, but the restrictions on the number of vendors will likely take its toll. Vendors to the market pay $15 each week, which helps bolster the market coffers, but on its busiest day, there were just 24 vendors flogging their wares – compared with 84 vendors that typically show up every summer.
Patterson said while they did get some financial breaks, such as Gopher Rentals supplying barricades and pylons, they are still likely to come up short. The market operates on a non-profit basis, and usually gives anything left over after paying its expenses for the summer toward a bursary at Peter Skene Ogden secondary.
“Definitely we’re in the red this year,” she said.
She is appealing to anyone who would like to donate to the market, saying it’s “more than just a grocery store,” especially for people who rely on the coupon program. “It’s so necessary. They need access to fresh, healthy food too and we are the platform, the space for people,” she said, noting the market is like a family. She added some people will come every Friday to get their vegetables from specific vendors.
“There really is a community feel, it’s like a family,” she said. “It’s so much more than just a grocery store. It’s nourishment for your soul.”
Marion Transetti, who set up a booth for her company, Find Your Tote, maintains the market is more than just a place to buy food.
“I think people were pretty confident we were keeping the social distancing,” she said. “People were pretty happy just to be outside. Some people come every week just to say hi. That’s the market sprit.”
Patterson agreed. “I’ve really enjoyed the season this year. As stressful as it is because we are in a pandemic it really shows as a community. It’s been a positive year amongst the chaos.”