Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

To market, to market...

Growing up and early at Whistler Farmers' Market



Chris Quinlan is one of those locals who's captured — and added to — Whistler's collective imagination for years, morphing through a variety of roles, including councillor at the local muni hall table, talk-jock for Whistler FM, and owner/caffeine-meister of Quinny's Café.

For the past six years, Chris has managed Whistler Farmers' Market, this year bigger and earlier than ever — a full four weeks earlier, meaning he had to nix his trip to Italy and settle for San Francisco where he met up with Dex, manager of the San Francisco Ferry Farmers' Market. Dex and others are interested in Marketwurks, software that Chris helped develop to assist market managers in tracking vendor information and more.

In light of this year's surprise opening and in celebration of all things market-ish, I caught up on the phone with Chris at Vancouver International Airport, where the gal on the intercom drove us both nuts.

Pique: What's the biggest thing locals overlook about Whistler Farmers' Market?

Chris Quinlan: I don't know if they realize just how many people apply for the market and then are not accepted. We started with 172 applications this year and culled 50 away from that. There are two independent juries that look at the products as well. We've got an artisans and crafters jury and we also have a food jury, which Max (Pique columnist, G.D. Maxwell) always seems to get himself on, so that's a good one — that's the fun one.

The first year we did the food jury we ate for four hours. Nobody made plans to go to Rimrock afterwards. The second year, we got smart and made sure the wineries and distilleries brought their product samples as well. It was, like, hold on, we've got all this food and no wine?!

Pique: But back to the number of people who apply...

CQ: I still get phone calls. I got two phone calls today from people thinking you can just phone up and rock it and sell some jewelry, and it will happen all year long. But there's a big process involved with being part of the program. I mean, these people we get in Whistler are pretty high-quality people. We're really fortunate because we have so many customers who go through the market, and the quality and product at Whistler Farmers' Market is some of the best in the country.

Pique: What's the thing that locals really get about the market?

CQ: They love it. They own it. I have friends who make it part if their family culture as they grow. They get the fact that it's locally produced and they can connect with their producers — that's the biggest thing for them. And they create a relationship. You wouldn't believe it. With some vendors, it's bordering on stalkers. They (the locals) will spend up to an hour hovering around, talking to the vendor, talking to everybody who goes up. They're cheerleaders — like, absolutely, come on, you have to buy this stuff, it's great. They're selling it more than the vendors!

Pique: Let's talk about visitors. Their take is different, so what do they overlook about the market?

CQ: That it's not something that's there every day and it's not part of the whole resort. They think, oh, does this happen every day? Does this run year-round? I get phone calls in January. Is the market on? No-o-o-o...

Pique: And for visitors, what's the biggest thing they get?

CQ: It's the energy — it's just so vibrant. They walk into it and it's jam-packed — there are 90-some-odd vendors doing everything from jewelry to prepared food, and farmers and artists, the painters, everybody. It's just ridiculous what they can get there. It's the whole social vibe.

Pique: What's the most f-ed up moment you've ever had at the market?

CQ: (Chris thinks awhile here.) One of the most bizarre moments was when the manager from one of the restaurants, who shall remain nameless, came running out and told all the vendors right in front of his restaurant that there was a hurricane coming from Creekside, and they had to tear the tents down. "There's a hurricane coming, there's a hurricane coming!" So they started tearing their stuff down. It got windy, but it wasn't a hurricane. Then there were a few of the vendors who were long-term and knew better, and they were, like, don't tear down, Chris will kill you.

Pique: After all these years of managing the market, what do you get out of it?

CQ: A. It's a huge social thing. B. I get to spread my organizational wings and exercise those chops. I get to develop the business. We've grown it from 50-some-odd vendors to over 90 on your average Sunday. We've expanded it — we've added the Wednesday market. But probably one of the best things about it is the ability to be involved in incubating small businesses.

Like Nonna Pia's, who were there before I was, and grew up to be one of the largest reinvestments in Dragons' Den history. Then you've got folks like Purebread — they grew up out of the market to their own locations in the village and Vancouver. We've got the food truck program — I'm helping coordinate that for the municipality. Two of the people participating in that are from the farmers' market. One of them, Caveman Grocer, grew from selling raw chocolate at the Wednesday afternoon market to the point where they're now getting ready to launch cross-Canada distribution for their paleo food, and they're buying a food truck. The whole thing is just phenomenal. For me, I see these guys grow up.

The Whistler Farmers' Market happens Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., June to October, and Wednesdays, 3 to 7 p.m., July and August, at the base of Blackcomb Benchlands along Upper Village Stroll.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who appreciates farmers.