One of the largest and most successful farmer’s markets in British Columbia is in my hood and has become one of our greatest weekly pleasures. Today’s last outdoor market of the season is a time to reflect on the growth of the combined Downtown Penticton Association Community Market and the Penticton Farmers Market and the growing appeal of farmer’s markets across North America.
A trip to the market is much more than about the food that will fill my wicker market basket. It’s about community, identity, pleasure and as food writer Michael Pollan puts it so well, “about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other.”
There is a lot more going on at the Penticton markets than an exchange of money for food. Sitting with my Backyard’s Beans coffee, in a returnable china mug, I look around and see a pair of talented musicians signing an old Joan Baez tune. Someone else is collecting signatures on a petition. Kids are everywhere. Every second person has a dog on a leash. Friends are meeting up and blocking foot traffic as they exchange hugs. Someone is taking photos of the cabbages. I overhear a discussion on leek soup recipes between farmer and customer. I see strangers talking to each other in line.
I read a study that calculated that people have 10 times as many conversations at the farmers’ market than they do at the grocery store. Like going back in time, the market has taken on the function of a lively new town square reminiscent of old world markets from centuries past. How great is that?
The rise in popularity of my local market and markets across the province is not just anecdotal. The latest stats from 2012 show that total economic benefits of all farmers’ markets in British Columbia was greater than $170 million, a 147-per-cent increase from 2006. The study said that the five most important factors market shoppers consider are nutritional content, where it’s grown or produced locally, in season, whether it’s grown or produced in B.C. and animal welfare issues. I think a sixth factor should be added, the mre intangible benefit of farmer’s market shopping –the chance to see people, meet friends and have meaningful exchanges with the farmers that grow our food.
Willis showing off his apple juggling skills which involves a knife spearing as his grand finale. Don’t try this a home…