There were five new farmers’ markets established this year, including the popular Downtown Biz Market at the Manitoba Hydro Plaza in Winnipeg
The farmers’ market star continues to rise in Manitoba.
“I’d say it’s been one of our best years yet,” said Marlin Peters, co-ordinator of the Virden Farmers’ Market.
Customer traffic is up and that’s attracting new vendors, he said.
“We have definitely seen an increase this year,” he said. “I’m sure there’s at least five or six vendors that had never come before.”
It’s a similar story around the province, said Jeffrey Veenstra, head of the Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM).
At least five new markets started this year, and those are just the ones he’s aware of because they also became members of the association, Veenstra said.
“We’ve experienced a large growth in farmers’ markets in Manitoba this year,” he said.
One of the big stories for 2013 was the launch of the Downtown Biz Market at the Manitoba Hydro Plaza in Winnipeg. The market exceeded expectations, attracting downtown workers and drawing customers from other parts of the city, said Jason Syvixay, strategic initiatives and public relations leader for Downtown Winnipeg Biz.
“We’d been hearing over the years that a farmers’ market would be really great, especially for those who don’t have access to transportation to get to places like the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market,” Syvixay said.
“We’re definitely planning to do it again next year and we’re looking for ways to grow it.”
The market began in June, running from 11:30 to 5:30 on Thursdays. Traffic was steady but lunch hours were the busiest.
“During the lunch hours you’d probably see 400 people at a time,” he said.
More than 80 vendors expressed interest, Syvixay said.
“But we could only accommodate 40,” he said. “So we had a waiting list of 30 to 40.”
Well-established markets like Morden also had a good year, although it lost about a third of its vendors this year.
“I think we went from 34 to about 24,” said market co-ordinator Lynnette Froese.
But that wasn’t necessarily a problem, as those left were able to sell more, she said, adding some vendors complained last year they weren’t making enough sales.
Most markets have now wrapped up for the year, with many bidding farewell to their seasonal customers last week.
But it’s been “a bit of a strange year,” said Veenstra, a vegetable producer who sells at the Pineridge Hollow Farmers’ Market.
“With the increased amount of farmers’ markets, and not necessarily an increase in vendors it’s kind of spread out a few of the vendors and weakened a few of the markets,” he said.
But supply and demand should eventually even out, he added.
“I think there are more people starting to see you can make a profit if you sell the right product at the right farmers’ market,” he said.
FMAM’s small board will meet later this month to review the year and do some strategic planning for its 39 member markets.
The other part of Manitoba’s “strange year” is, despite a thriving membership, the association’s own future remains uncertain.
Its three-member board still has two vacancies, and next year Veenstra could be on his own if the two existing directors, whose terms are complete, choose not to serve again. The association has not had paid staff for nearly two years after grants ran out, and is now run entirely by the volunteer board.
But Veenstra, who assumed the role of chair last April, remains optimistic.
He said he’s confident they’ll be able to recruit new board members, and the board is focused on running the organization effectively and efficiently to reduce the board’s workload, Veenstra said.
“I think if we stay as a volunteer board and maintain our simple, basic activities, we can succeed as a volunteer board and still provide a very good service to our farmers’ markets,” he said.
Markets need an association to speak for them when issues arise, such as when it challenged Peak of the Market over the small-grower limit for root crop vegetables.
“At this point we don’t have those issues,” he said. “But should they arise again then we’ll have a collective voice. The association should keep going so when we do need it it’s there.”