A summer destination for locals and tourists, Powell River Farmers’ Market offers a diversity of food, artisanal goods and entertainment on a weekly basis. The market celebrates its 30th anniversary during a special Canada 150 event on Saturday, July 1, at its Paradise Exhibition Grounds location on McLeod Road.
Vendor Donna Anaka has been involved since the market’s early days.
“When we started, there were probably 20 vendors,” said Anaka.
According to Anaka, the market did not start on the exhibition grounds, but on leased land at the end of Claridge Road. It later moved to a parking lot on Abbotsford Street, adjacent to what is now Crossroads Village Shopping Centre.
“It was so hot on the pavement standing there with your produce,” said Anaka.
The move to McLeod Road was welcomed by all, she added.
During its early days, the market was managed by Bertie Van derMark.
“Bertie was monumental in moving the market to the exhibition grounds, as well as building the booths and the bandshell,” said Anaka.
Van derMark managed the market for 16 years, basing her work on decisions made by a volunteer market committee formed around a common interest in local food and small-scale economy.
Van derMark retired from the position in 2001, handing the reins to its second manager, Julie Bellian.
According to Bellian, the market was most active during economic downturns.
“When times got hard, people had to find a way to make money, and for some that meant being a vendor at the market,” said Bellian. “The whole thing was very much a fringe movement; a grassroots local initiative.”
Bellian said the market has also served as a hub for political engagement around agricultural issues. Banding together, local farmers were able to resist various regulations that impacted their ability to sell eggs or slaughter meat, and advocate for keeping farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve, she said.
Various initiatives have come out of the farmers’ market community, according to Bellian, including the 50-mile diet and the declaration of Powell River as a genetically-engineered-free crop zone in 2004, the first of its kind in Canada.
In 2009, responsibility for running the market was put into the hands of Jesse Black, a young farmer from Ontario.
“When I arrived on the scene, there was a lot of conflict over who should run the market, so the best option seemed to be to hand it over to an unbiased outsider,” said Black. “I don’t think anyone knew I was 19 when they gave me the position.”
After Black moved back to Ontario in 2012, Juhli Jobi, who was born and raised in Powell River, became the new manager.
“I chose Juhli knowing she would put her heart and experience into the market and take it in the right direction,” said Black.
According to Anaka, Jobi’s branding of the market has helped increase its popularity.
“Juhli has been instrumental in getting the word out about the market,” said Anaka.
For Jobi, the farmers’ market is more than just a place to buy fresh produce, baked goods and value-added products; it is an opportunity for buyers and farmers to get to know each other and build lasting relationships, she said.
Jobi said she thinks of the market as a gathering place for groups of seniors, families and children.
“It’s a way to get to know the community if you’re new to town,” she said.
In her four years as manager, Jobi said she has tried to continue building on previous market successes and adapt to changes and new opportunities. Some changes included repainting market booths to a brighter colour and creation of a waste station for compost and recycling, which lessen the market’s waste load.
Jobi said the ride-on model train at the market has also seen changes in the last year. Managed by Powell River Forestry Heritage Society, the track has expanded to four times its previous size.
The kids’ play area has also grown, including the development of a sandpit, a vast array of children’s toys and plenty of seating, said Jobi.
“We’ve tried to create a space where parents don’t feel like they have to be right on top of their kids,” said Jobi.
In the last few years, Jobi said she has seen more young adults at the market, including couples, groups of friends and young families. She said the market and its community have also benefited from the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program, a BC-wide initiative that provides coupons to low-income families and seniors to use at farmers’ markets.
The local market includes vendors from Powell River, north of town, south of town, Texada and Tla’amin Nation, with more than 70 vendors attending most weekends, said Jobi.
Some vendors have been involved since the beginning, including Marisa Mastrodonato, Pat Hanson and Kathleen Richards. The market also includes a number of new vendors, including Aaron Mazurek who started in 2016.
Mazurek said he has always had a passion for farming and spent a few years working on farms in England. After spending 16 years as a realtor, he took a sabbatical to pursue farming full time.
“I wanted to take it past my own garden,” said Mazurek, who attended the market as a patron for many years. “The market felt like a natural fit.”
Mazurek said he sells a few staple crops such as lettuce, tomatoes and carrots, but his passion is in heirloom varieties and specialty crops such as radicchio and bulb fennel.
“One year we grew a lot of tromboncino squash but it didn’t sell well until we started giving away recipes with it,” said Mazurek. “Then people kept coming back and asking for it once they knew what to do with it.”
Mazurek said the market is a family-friendly place to meet people and buy fresh vegetables and other goods.
“I’ve always liked going to the market,” he said.
Anaka said she has seen a lot of growth in her 30 years at Powell River Farmers’ Market.
“But at the same time, it’s the same market,” she said. “It still has that country feel.”
For more information, go to powellriverfarmersmarket.blogspot.ca.