The frost is indeed on the pumpkin, and that signals the end of the market season for the Fort St James Farmers’ Market.
The year 2012 was a successful market season, according to market manager Kandace Kerr. Seven new vendors joined the market this year, with products ranging from garden stones and wildcrafted syrups and jams, to free-range chicken, beef, cupcakes, handcrafted cards, and a wide range of fresh fruit popsicles. Weekly attendance was up over last year, averaging close to 300 visitors each week.
“The best part?” Kerr says with a big smile. “It only rained on us once this year – not like last year, which saw rain almost every week. ”
And fantastic weather led to a terrific growing season for produce vendors, very different from last year. From mid-July almost to the end of September the tables were overflowing with the best of local produce. The heart of the market continues to be the vendors who come each week, and the customers who support them.
Many have a loyal following. The market has a strong core of 15 regular vendors, with visiting vendors often coming from out of town (including the fruit truck from the Okanagan). Products include local produce and meats, baking, pickles, jams and syrups, eggs, honey, textiles, hand-crafted furniture, jewelry, paper and other crafts, and ready-to-eat treats.
A unique aspect of the FSJ market is a nutrition coupon program, which ran for a fourth successful year in 2012. This is a true Fort St. James community initiative with a number of local partners working together to operate a program that has become a model for other communities around the province.
The market was in its downtown location on Stuart Drive again this year, thanks to the continued generosity of Art Julian, who donated use of his property for the market to set up on during market season. “We are very grateful to Art Julian for continuing to allow us to use his downtown property, as being right in the centre of town is crucial to the success of the market, and thank him for his support for the market” Kerr says. She adds that the District of Fort St. James continued to be very supportive of the market this year, assisting vendors with training and economic development support.
The market season may be over for this year but Kerr says there are still opportunities to purchase local foods and crafts. Many vendors are planning to set up tables at the Christmas Craft Fair in November, and the farmers’ market is planning to hold another Valentine’s Day indoor market next February. She adds that some of the regular market products, such as beef, chicken, honey, crafts and furniture, are available directly from the vendors or in some local retail outlets.
“I’ve seen a significant growth in interest in purchasing local over the past few years at the market” Kerr says, “and that can only contribute to the strengthening of local food security and support for local producers and artisans.”
She adds that given the recent E. coli incident in Alberta there will likely be a corresponding increase in consumers wanting to buy local foods, as one way of knowing where their food comes from and how it is processed.
Kerr is eager to extol the virtues of buying local, as she has done for years, and adds that it can only happen with the continued hard work and creativity of local producers, crafters, and artisans, and ongoing support from local customers.
“Every week at the market I am just blown away by the range of creativity, the dedication to providing quality products, and the energy and enthusiasm of the market vendors, said Kerr. “The Fort St. James market has a reputation as being one of the best local markets going, and it is because of the hard work and dedication of the vendors. They really are the strength of our market, and I am so lucky to be a part of this family.”
And next year? “Bigger and better than ever” Kerr promises. “We’ll be back in 2013, the Friday before Mother’s Day. Watch for the white tents!”