In the beginning...
It was the late fall of 1994, at a meeting of the Vancouver Food Policy Coalition, that the idea of Farmers Markets and their role in food security was discussed. A subgroup of that coalition – made up of Vickie Boere (Community Nutritionist at the North Health Unit of the Vancouver Health Department), Carol Ranger (Community Nutritionist at REACH Community Health Centre), Herb Barbolet (Director of FarmFolk/CityFolk) and Michael McGee (an interested community member) –formed to pursue the idea of a Farmers Market in an urban area. We decided to pursue the idea using a com- munity development model. We would throw out a seed, an idea, and see if the community was interested. Bob Chorney, a Farmers Market consultant from Ontario, was going to be in town for other business.
We decided to organize a forum with him as a speaker to bring people together and hopefully generate some excitement about the possibilities. The forum would provide information on Farmers Markets. From there it would be up to the community to create a Market if they wanted one. In February 1995, we held a public forum at Britannia Community Centre. It was advertised as IMAGINE…. the possibility of fresh, local fruits and vegetables in YOUR neighbourhood. A local community kitchen group prepared a wonderful meal of hearty winter soups, and local businesses donated many ingredients and accoutrements. Approximately 100 people attended what was a lovely evening. Bob helped generate bounds of enthusiasm for a Market. An announcement was made at the evening’s end that a planning meeting would be held at REACH Community Health Centre the following week. Twelve to 15 keen people attended the first meeting where people shared their interests. One week later a second meeting occurred with seven people attending. This group, with the addition of two more members a few weeks later, became the core group to develop the Market. The logistics were sorted out and a skeleton plan was developed.
The Society Is Born
In order to qualify for grants, we registered as a non-profit organization, creating the East Vancouver Farmers Market Society. Board members included all the volunteers involved at that point. The founding members of the Society and their passions were: Karen Clarke and Sarah Murdoch - Community Economic Development, Ayrone Nicols – sustainable agriculture and crafts, Franco Ferrari – community revitalization and small business, Siobhan Ryan – community involvement and sustainable agriculture, Devorah Kahn – community development and health education , Carol Ranger and Vicki Boere – nutrition, hunger and community development. Proposals were written to obtain some initial start-up funds. We were fortunate to receive a total of $9,000 from the VanCity Community Partnership Fund and the United Church VanDusen Fund. The money went to pay for advertising, equipment and signage.
Committee members started to gather information from other Markets located in similar urban environments and use the information as a blueprint. We found rules and regulations as well as application forms we could adapt and spoke to the organizers of Victoria’s Moss Street Market. The procedure for finding a location was identified, but we soon met a large barrier: by-laws in Vancouver that made it illegal to sell fruits and vegetables off the back of trucks. We learned that no area in the city was zoned to accommodate a Market. So, we learned how to lobby, how to work within the system to make changes and how to soften some of the rules.
In order to deal with all the bureaucratic hurdles, we began a campaign of intense lobbying — of bureaucrats, past and present municipal councillors and provincial politicians. The process was long and arduous, we were old numerous times that a Market was not possible in Vancouver. But we persevered, secured a location at the Croatian Cultural Centre and set an opening date. We recruited farmers, crafters and local entertainment for the Market. We spoke to farmers who attended the Granville Island Market and contacted others through lists from organic certifying bodies. We put flyers around the Commercial Drive area to reach crafters. Only one week before opening day, the issue was brought before City Council. After much discussion and opposition from city staff, a by-law relaxation was granted for one year to hold the Market on the private property of the Croatian Cultural Centre. When the Market season was over, the City would evaluate the market and it's impact on local traffic, parking, and other mobile vending concerns (the evaluation turned out to be positive).
At the same time, discussions were occurring with the City’s environmental health department, which was very concerned about what would be sold at the Market. Initially it was agreed that we could open the Market if only fruits and vegetables were sold. Through extensive, ongoing discussions with local nutritionists, a gradually expanding list of low-risk prepared food items was identified. Half-way through the first season, prepared foods were allowed to be sold. The Market was eventually permitted to include honey, eggs, meat and cheese. Over time, environmental health staff worked with market members to design a food safety course specifically for Market vendors. (It is now mandatory that all prepared food vendors take this course before they are permitted to sell at the Market.)
Opening day was a gala event, and the beginning of a new tradition in the Cedar Cottage neighbourhood. Approximately 500 people attended the first day. The vendors included 8 farmers and 14 craft people. As well, space was allocated for community groups to have tables sharing information on their projects, for backyard gardeners to sell their excess produce and for local musicians to busk. At first, farmers were sceptical of the Market. They didn’t think it would be a success. But word traveled quickly after that opening day. Twice as many farmers arrived the next week. The Market ran for 11 weeks that year. Sales were almost $40,000 for the season and 800 to 1200 people were soon attending on a weekly basis. Overall, it appeared the community loved the Market and was very sorry to see it close for the season. We received many comments from vendors that year, comments that helped to improve the Market and make it better for everyone. Vendors and their feedback have been an integral part of the Market since it opened. The mission, goals and objectives of the Society were determined during the first year. They reflected the interests and passions of all the volunteers who worked to create the Market. The mission is “to foster community health and local economic development through the creation of a venue where community members have greater access to safe, healthy, locally produced, and environmentally friendly food and where B.C. producers can market their goods directly to urban consumers.”