Though arguably successful since its inception, the Duncan Farmers Market has seen incredible growth of the last couple of years. So much so, said market president Jim Sproul, that they’ve had to hire an executive director.
“As the market grew, so did the workload of managing it, so in 2016 we changed the management structure and hired an executive director to handle the growing administrative workload,” Sproul said. “In addition we still have a market manager and during the summer two staff reporting to the market manager.”
In the summer there are about 100 vendors on any given Saturday and a waiting list half as long wanting to participate. It’s an embarrassment of riches but there’s only so much space in downtown Duncan.
Russel Fahlman said he’s been taking his Kilrenny Farm products to the market since back when it was still just a handful of vendors at The Mound. He’s watched first hand as it has morphed into one of Duncan’s most popular businesses and the place to see and be seen each weekend.
“It seems to have been a continual success from day one,” he said. “When we started we grew vegetables and at that time there was not that much awareness of food and local and organic and that kind of stuff. It’s taken a while to educate the public and the market has done a lot for that.”
Now it’s the place to be on Saturdays at any time of the year.
“We’re one of the biggest businesses in Duncan, really, when you think of how many vendors and how much money it generates,” Fahlman said. “When we started in the Square, there was hardly anything in downtown Duncan open on Saturday. Now it’s busy and all the stores and restaurants and the whole downtown benefits. It’s a real net benefit to the economic development of Duncan.”
The results of a study done by the B.C. Farmers Market Association and the University of Northern B.C. to measure the community and economic benefits of Farmers Markets across the province, show the estimated number of market customers on each Saturday between May and October was between 3,450 and 4,370 in 2016 and they spent, on average, between $31 and $36.
That’s a huge economic boost to the region, Sproul said.
The market also operates a BC Farmer nutrition coupon program which assists low income families and seniors and provides thousands of dollars of farm market produce, eggs, meat and cheese to these families each year.
“All of this translates into a large infusion of cash into the pockets of farmers and other vendors who live throughout the Valley which in turn is re-spent here,” he said. “It is quite an economic development engine.”
And it’s only going to get better.
“Our reputation is growing and the Duncan Farmers Market has become a destination market for many, and along with our core support from the Valley who get a lot of credit for making us what we are, we see people from all over the Island and in fact the world,” Sproul noted.
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent admitted managing the market’s physical growth is tricky, but if there’s a will to expand, there must be a way.
“Anything’s a possibility. We have regular communication with them and if they were to bring a proposal to us we would certainly consider it,” Kent said. “There are challenges with extending it down Ingram Street because we have businesses that are actively open on Saturdays that need access, and it would be an issue of trying to speak with all the stakeholders there. It’s just a conversation that we have to have.”
Kent noted the alleyway on Lois Lane and what they call the City Square Mews – the chunk of space between City Hall and the Canada Building — are both viable expansion spots. In the past those areas have been used but vendors haven’t been too keen on being on the fringes.
“If they were to do something there regularly they might be able to make it work,” he said.
Kent was downtown in late September during the market day.
“Holy smokes it was busy. It’s crazy,” he noted. “It is a nice problem to have. They’re successful, the town is successful, and the community is getting great service.”