When new directors of the fledgling Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba Co-op Inc. (FMAM) first organized in November 2007, they had no idea they were on the cusp of a local marketing groundswell.
The number of farmers’ markets in Manitoba has more than doubled in the last three years, with FMAM’s membership swelling from that original six to 42.
Two more are poised to join “and more are in the making” FMAM executive director Dianna Mae Hocaluk told member market representatives gathered in Portage la Prairie last weekend for the group’s annual general meeting.
Killarney farmer and founding director Dave Koslowsky joked he’s now “the old man” of the group, being one of the founding directors.
“It’s just great to see this organization growing,” Koslowsky said in a brief address to FMAM’s annual meeting held last Saturday in Portage la Prairie. “It just shows what you can do when you bring people together.”
Hocaluk said in an interview the growth in farmers’ markets here coincides with a local food movement sweeping the country. The FMAM’s phone rings constantly with people looking to start markets, she said.
– Farmers’ Market Association Of Manitoba Executive Director Dianna Mae Hocaluk
“We don’t even have to promote ourselves,” she said.
The biggest challenge ahead for the provincial farmers’ market movement is meeting that demand, she said. Vendors are in critically short supply, Hocaluk said. Calls to start markets are also paired with requests for vendors.
Developing a vendor recruitment package, similar to other markets across Canada, was one of the key needs identified in a strategic planning session March 5.
“Unfortunately, we still don’t have the farmers to fill the need. We don’t have enough small farmers coming in,” Hocaluk said. “The customers far outnumber what we can provide right now.”
But FMAM’s ongoing challenge as an organization is that it needs stable sources of revenue to move ahead with any other project, she said.
“Sustainability is always our biggest challenge as an association,” said Hocaluk.
“We’re still limited to having to prioritize, trying to sustain our organization,” said Hocaluk. “Trying to complete our grants right now is our prime focus.”
FMAM is currently looking at possibly creating a “virtual” farmers’ market, she said. That would be an online resource where direct marketers of made-it, baked-it, grown-it local products could promote their products, with advertising bringing in revenues for the organization.
“To find something that we can use as revenue generating to be able to sustain our association has to be one of our main focuses. We don’t want to rely on government funding. We want to become sustainable.”
Last year FMAM was presented with a $450,000 federal grant for market site improvement through a federal fund under its Canada Economic Action Plan.
“We now have over 300 FMAM canopies out there. It’s been a huge branding opportunity for us,” she said.
Collapsible canopies have also been built at some market locations and landscaping and beautification at markets has also taken place. Seating areas and garbage disposal has been added to sites as well.
“Thecustomersfar outnumberwhatwe canproviderightnow.”