Five months after the Winter Market in Market Square opened as an experiment, its popularity is keeping it alive.
What started as a once-a-month trial to bring local foods and music into one location despite the cold was expanded to twice a month and will continue as the weather warms, as the Summer Market.
“Jan. 15 came along and that was the best day,” said co-organizer Timothy Trebilcock, with Eat Here Now.
“These are cold days – it was surprising and that was probably 500 to 1,000 people coming downtown. In the winter, people are getting local produce.”
In the cold weather, the produce selection at the market wasn’t huge, so baking, cheese and honey filled the gaps. Still, the numbers kept increasing.
“I’m certain we could operate four times a month in Market Square,” Trebilcock said. “It could be pretty successful, but we don’t want to compete with other markets and other farmers.”
With summer coming, that competition includes the Moss Street Market, the Open Air Urban Market in Centennial Square, the James Bay Community Market, a smaller market in Fernwood, the Island Chefs Collaborative market in Bastion Square, and a handful of others that pop up in the region, selling locally grown produce and other goods.
It’s a trend that’s growing as people come to appreciate sustainable food more, said Ken Winchester, owner of Niagara Grocery which opened in James Bay two years ago, and Fairfield Market, in business for four weeks.
“There was a whole generation who wanted choice, convenience and price,” Winchester said. “(People) are trying new foods and they’re liking it.”
Moss Street Market and James Bay Community Market both reported seeing an increase in business last year, and James Bay noted the biggest boost was in produce sales.
Matthew Glynn of Victoria-based Matt’s Breads said he and his wife have increasingly shopped for their foods at markets – or at least at destinations that sell locally sourced foods.
“It’s because it tastes better,” he said. “It’s fresher and it’s local. … It’s also to do with wanting to reduce their carbon impact as well.”
Despite people’s lives generally getting busier, Winchester said people are taking time to choose fresh, local foods.
“People are enjoying their food. They’re making time, they’re carving the time out of their lives (for good food).”
Trebilcock said trends could push even more shoppers toward markets, as sustainability becomes a priority.
“Food’s becoming really, really important,” he said. “We’re seeing prices of food skyrocket because of gasoline and we’re seeing people become more conscious about the problems with carbon and seeing that people are more educated about food as well.
“They’re seeing local food is a little more expensive, but it is worth it.”