Doug Eng stands over a tower of cartons full of carrots when he becomes philosophical. “We are just like the embers of what used to be,” he said. “Perhaps it might catch on again.”
It is 11 a.m. Sunday and Eng, who grew up on the farm that he has run for 20 years, stands in the middle of the lacrosse box at Braefoot Park as it hosts the second edition of Saanich Sunday Farmers’ Market.
Eng’s wife Ling and son Justin stand underneath a fold-up tent and behind several tables bursting with produce that the family grows a couple of kilometres away in their business, Glanford Greenhouses. The stand is among two dozen or so selling a range of goods that fill about two-thirds of the lacrosse box. A lone guitarist has the rest of the box for himself as he plays.
While business at the various stands appears brisk, several people point out that it is down from last week, when large crowds attended the market’s inaugural opening. This drop could be expected and Eng sounds confident about the long-term direction of the market.
“We think it is going to be very popular,” he said. “The residents that I have talked to say they are kind of deprived of market choices. They have to travel quite far to get to the other markets and this one is right in their neighbourhood. They are liking it. They have given me the thumbs-up.”
Saanich gave the enterprise its approval earlier this year. Initial planning though began some two years ago, said co-organizer Sean Newby, pointing to Saanich’s size and history as a farming community as inspiration. “I asked [co-organizer] Marsha [Henderson] to entertain the idea as well and it has taken about two years to get everything in place.”
The non-profit market operates under a temporary use permit on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Aug. 27.
“We were just blown away by the vendors that ended up showing for the [July 2] market,” said Henderson. “We had close to 40 vendors [and] crowds went beyond our expectations. Everybody had a great time.”
Newby added that planning for the future is already underway.
Farmers’ markets represent a confluence of ecological, economic, culinary and political imperatives. They offer local growers like Eng a chance to bypass various gate-keepers in the food industry.
“The market is an option for people who want to start up again and they don’t have the infrastructure to move their product through the normal channels, the packinghouses and wholesalers, because they are too small,” said Eng. “This gives us smaller farmers a chance to move our produce that we want to grow and connect with the community.”
As Tamara Knott of Bright Greens Farm says, direct sales to customers produce higher margins for sellers, but also value for customers.
“There is a misconception in some circles that shopping for produce at the farmers’ market is more expensive, but I’m actually competitive with the grocery store,” she said, adding some of her items sell below what competitors demand.
For Knott, farmers’ markets are also crucial marketing opportunities for her business. She and her husband Bruce grew different types of produce around the entire year, using a highly sophisticated container-based growing system. But their company Bright Greens is still trying to establish itself, and the farmers’ market allows Knott to meet potential customers, who might not have heard of her yet.
“So this is a really valuable opportunity for a grower like me to get out in the community and make those relationships happen,” she said. “You have got two or three months to meet with as many people as you can, so that they know about you and get greens in the following winter.”
Farmers’ markets offer sustainability while encouraging local entrepreneurship and ensuring food security. But first and foremost, farmers’ markets support farmers, said Henderson.
“We eat three times a day, most of us, and we don’t really give a thought to where our food comes from,” she said. “We have a lot of food growers and food preparers in our region and vendors in Saanich were driving all over place. They wanted their own market. People in Saanich [now] have another way to access fresh food.”
This culinary factor motivates Yvonne Perrett, who was shopping Sunday with her partner Tim Stoner and their daughter Kaylee. She said her family has become more conscious of where and what they buy when they go grocery shopping and they eventually hope to source about 30 per cent of their groceries locally, even if it might cost a little bit more.