News » Whistler

To market we go

Farmers' markets have significant impact on local economies



It's possible that farmers' markets will one day make it into the English lexicon with as much blasé as grocery stores.

For now, even after a major expansion of markets throughout North America, they're still considered novel, unique and even somewhat temporary - as if they could someday vanish. Popularity and history aside, straight economics indicates that will never happen.

Whistler's Farmers' Market, which kicks off the summer season on Sunday, June 19, draws an average of 2,000 people per market. That success led to the decision this year by the board to add another market on Wednesdays.

"It's purely food focused," said Whistler Farmers' Market board member and municipal councillor Chris Quinlan. "The board decided that there was enough desire amongst the membership to have a mid-week market and that they could probably try and fulfill one of the mandates of the market which is to make more locally grown produce available for the people in Whistler."

Unlike the Sunday markets, which have an average of 80 vendors, the Wednesday market will have 20 to 25 merchants from the market's catchment area between Lions Bay and Lytton.

Getting into the market is not as simple as showing up. Whistler, like most of the markets around the province, juries its vendors, ensuring quality product that is 100 per cent made, baked or grown within the corridor.

"You can't be bringing in T-shirts from Taiwan and just because you've silk-screened them, call them local," said Quinlan. "We look at what the product is - we don't want to have 15 bakers because it needs to be successful - the merchants need an opportunity to be successful yet there's still enough variety for the customers when they come up."

To sell, vendors can either commit to a full summer season for $900, which works out to be about $50 per market, or buy a package of market days for around $80 per event.

Nationally, farmers' markets had 28 million shopper visits in 2008, with patrons spending an average of $32.06 per visit and another $18.44 in additional expenditures in the local community. In British Columbia, the most thorough survey examining the economic impact of farmers' markets on British Columbia's economy was completed in 2006, and even then the numbers pointed to a growing trend. At that time, farmers' markets were worth $118.5 million to the provincial economy, and that was before major media campaigns promoted the 100 Mile Diet, the slow food movement and the debate of local over organic. The most recent national stats from 2009 show the impact of farmers markets on the Canadian economy hovering somewhere around $3.09 billion.