It’s official: Le Marché St.-Norbert Farmers’ Market is one heck of a draw.
The market on Winnipeg’s southern outskirts drew 10,000 people on a single day in August.
The huge Saturday crowd demonstrates why recently announced renovations and improvements are badly needed, said Marilyn Firth, the market’s community relations manager. Those include upgraded drainage, improved washroom facilities, better signage and improved walkways.
Market president and Starbuck beekeeper Phil Veldhuis said $250,000 has already been raised from the province, City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Foundation and community supporters. The improvements, expected to cost several million dollars, will be phased in over the next decade as money is raised.
If past growth is any sign, the future is bright, said Veldhuis, who started selling honey at the market in 1991 to help pay for university.
“We’re doing fantastic, but there’s all sorts of awareness and energy that could be tapped into yet,” he said.
The crowds are not only larger, but sticking around longer — weeks longer in fact.
“Twenty years ago we would have thought it was crazy to be running a market to the end of October,” said Veldhuis. “Now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.”
Market officials want to eventually erect permanent buildings and structures to extend the market season, but there are no plans to go year round as the financial risk would be too great, he said.
“It would be a huge expense. We’ve looked at what our resources could generate and they would not finance that large a project,” he said.
Still, it’s been quite a run for a market, given its humble start on July 16, 1988 when a dozen vendors gathered on the grassy site at the south end of Winnipeg, said the market’s first president Bob Rhoele.
Farmers’ markets had been absent on the Winnipeg scene for several decades when local residents began brainstorming on how to best use a parcel of land donated to the St. Norbert Foundation, he recalled.
“The question was: If we don’t want any more car washes or hamburger joints in St. Norbert, what could we use if for?” said Rhoele. “Some of us said, ‘Why don’t we do a farmers’ market?’ Except nobody knew how to create one.”
They got help from the farmers’ market association in Saskatchewan and money from a Canadian Wheat Board co-op development fund. Today, the co-op has more than 150 members, said Rhoele.
From the beginning, market days were social events and Rhoele says he still sees patrons from the early days.
It’s been wonderful to watch the market grow and thrive, he said.
“I usually ask people if they’ve come to the farmers’ market, and invariably, people say yes. Some say, ‘Oh, we come two or three times a summer,’ or, ‘We go every Saturday.’ In that sense, we’ve put St. Norbert on the map.”