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Whistler Farmers' Market prepares for 2013

B.C. association conference shows resort market on the right track



The snow's still falling and the skiers are still shredding but Chris Quinlan is already looking to June and the opening of the Whistler Farmers' Market.

Quinlan, who has managed the market at its Upper Village location for the last four years, was in Kamloops from March 1 to 3 to take part in the 14th BC Association of Farmers' Markets conference, where he moderated several seminars and acted as master of ceremonies.

Representatives from 70 farmers' markets from around British Columbia took part in the conference, he said. Seminars ranged from using social media and public relations to market psychology and making coupon programs work.

"As far as the direction B.C. farmers' markets are going, they're training their boards, they're training their managers in issues of governance, strategic planning, marketing and communications and really giving them the opportunity to be successful," Quinlan said.

This effort has been replicated in Whistler, he said.

"When I took over, we were averaging 50 to 55 vendors per market now we're at 85. We've nearly doubled our physical footprint and the correlation with what happened at the conference and what happened at our market is the whole aspect of looking at the market as a business because there has to be a plan," Quinlan said.

"One of the first things I did was to take our board through a strategic planning session and then decided where we wanted to be in three years. We developed a work plan, and that's how we came up with expanding our footprint in the first year, adding a Wednesday market in the second year and actually getting to the point of being a granting organization instead of just receiving grants."

Quinlan called the financial impact of the Whistler Farmers' Market "significant."

"This is the 19th year of the Whistler Market. We started out with one 20 by 20 tent, one farmer, one jeweller.  If we were lucky we had an entertainer, and we grew from there," he said.

"When I came on I was told to lose $10,000 (in costs) because they wanted to grow the market... and we got it to the point where the cash flow was positive. I think our first year budget was around $50,000 or $60,000 and now it is over $80,000."

This success has meant that Whistler Farmers' Markets granted $6,500 in 2012 to the very foundations that helped them out over the years: the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the Chateau Fairmont Whistler Foundation, Whistler Community Services Society, Pemberton Arts Council and Whistler Arts Council.  

"A lot of that was about paying back the partners that enabled us to become what we've become," Quinlan said.

The keynote speaker at the Kamloops conference, Dr. David Connell of the School of Environmental Planning at the University of Northern B.C., provided numbers to show the ongoing growth of the farmers' markets concept.

"In 2006 he did an economic impact study (of farmers' markets in B.C.) and they did another one in 2012. The growth in the time was over 23 per cent, the actual number was $69 million of economic impact on direct sales of $46 million in 2012," Quinlan said.

"Just because we're a non-profit society doesn't mean we can't make money. It means we have to make sure that through proper governance and planning that we're able to move forward and that the organization, the farmers' market will be successful for 20 years. That's really the message," he said.

In 2013, Whistler Farmers' Market will be operating from Sunday, June 16, Father's Day, until Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Wednesday markets run from July until early September.

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