Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and drink: Behind the market stalls

It takes a village, or a very patient manager, to raise a farmers’ market

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It's a theatrical experience - a place to get wowed or be soothed, or just step out of the boredom of day-to-day reality.

It's a pub, a coffee house turned inside out and placed outside, a place to hang out, people watch, meet those neighbours you hadn't talked to in ages.

It's an incubator for start-up businesses. It's an economic driver that flips 1.5 times the money spent there into the surrounding community.

It's a place to buy your dinner and to put a face on your food.

It's your local farmers' market - spelled variously as farmer's, farmers' or farmers market, but I will stick with the original dictionary-certified "farmers' market" for now.

However you spell it, running one can be quite the experience, hovering somewhere between directing a play and running serial counselling sessions. Sometimes you could even be justified for taking a course in mediation, juggling or self-defense along the way.

"When I get new staff they say, you know, I didn't realize it was so deep," says Roberta LaQuaglia, operations manager for the past six years for Vancouver Farmers Markets. They run four summer markets and one winter market in Vancouver. Their catchy motto: "Meet your maker."

"People ask us what do you do all day  - talk to farmers on the phone and that's all? But there's so much of this that is not just a daily thing, there is so much below the surface."

Market managers are like counsellors and moms, with vendors calling when they're having a bad day, like their equipment is breaking down, or they're having troubles on the farm.

They're business development centres, helping young businesses to get going, and offering advice like which crops to grow or which products to bring.

They're mediators, working with the health authority and other local authorities, making sure vendors are on board with things like food safety and bylaws. And working with neighbours, who may not like all the cars being parked on market day; with vendors who are pissed off with fellow vendors; or with parks boards who want the space for baseball games.

While he may not have all these issues to deal with, halfway through his first season managing Whistler's farmers' market, Chris Quinlan is quickly discovering the many aspects to the game.

Ironically, as a member of the Upper Village Merchants Association he had a hand in starting up the market back in '93. He's run his own restaurants, managed and/or worked in some of Whistler's most demanding eateries, including the food and beverage side of Blackcomb Mountain, and he's handled a staff of 75.

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