The provincial group representing farmers’ markets is back from the brink after nearly folding for lack of a board of directors this month.
Things took a decidedly humorous turn at the Farmers’ Markets Association of Manitoba’s (FMAM) annual meeting here as names of persons willing to step forward were put forward over the weekend.
A three-member board has held things together since last spring, but with two completing their terms this spring, it was down to the current chairperson, Jeff Veenstra. After a brief pep talk about the importance of keeping the province-wide association going, he opened nominations.
He’d heard from one person he told about 40 in attendance.
“It was someone who said she was interested, but we didn’t connect again,” he said. “And I don’t think she’s involved with farmers’ markets and I also don’t know anything about her,” he said.
“She’s perfect,” an audience member immediately chimed.
But minutes later FMAM was back on solid footing after the names of four individuals — all associated with the Winnipeg-based St. Norbert Farmer’s Market — who agreed to let stand for nomination were put forward. None attended the Steinbach meeting.
Veenstra, a market gardener selling at the Pineridge Hollow Farmers Market, said he’s “relieved” to know there are people wanting to serve on the board and looks forward to working with them.
“To see this association live another day is fantastic,” he said. “It’s important for our farmers’ markets across Manitoba and not just the member markets, but all farmers’ markets.”
Goals for the new board will be to improve administrative efficiency and communication between the association and its member markets, he said. The FMAM represents 40 member markets around the province.
“We need dialogue between markets and the association,” Veenstra said. “We need to be more connected and we need to figure out what our association is to do,” he said.
Others said it’s time to bring vendors and co-ordinators together to tell the association what they want from it.
“I sense there’s a feeling that people are really wanting this organization to continue but where do we want to go with it?” said Pat Herman, a co-ordinator of the Pineridge Hollow Farmers Market and a founding member of the now seven-year-old entity.
There’s a general feeling that an association is a good thing to retain, others said.
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But beyond the benefit of group insurance, others wonder what purpose a provincial association serves.
Lower-cost insurance from being a member was the primary reason their Oak Lake Farmers Market joined FMAM, said Leah Lees. But they were also wondering at the time of joining if FMAM was even going to continue.
“It kind of sounded like it was collapsing because the funding had run out,” she said.
FMAM incorporated in 2007 following several meetings of market representatives who saw a need for an umbrella group to form and speak on behalf of what was then a geographically isolated number of markets without means of communicating their common needs.
But it has been without an executive director since 2011 after the small grant that paid a part-time salary for the position ran out. That funding came from an international charitable organization — Heifer International Canada.
Between formation and 2011 FMAM compiled a sector profile and secured funding to conduct an economic impact study that in 2008 determined farmers’ markets activity in Manitoba contributed $10.26 million to the provincial economy.