October 26, 2009
Halifax Awaits a World-Class Farmers' Market
The oldest farmers' market in North America prepares for an exciting move
At 259 years old, the Halifax Farmers' Market is the longest-running farmers market in North America.
While the market as it exists today is an incredible story itself, more exciting is the long-awaited move to the now-under-construction Seaport Market. If all goes as planned, the current market will shift out of what has become a very cramped and over-crowded location and into a spacious new design that is expected to offer a larger and more frequent customer base for the province's food producers. The move is also expected to encourage producers to scale up their operations.
The Farmers' Market Boom
In recent years, farmers' markets have come to represent a growing multi-billion dollar sector of the food system. The market model offers a much-needed and financially rewarding connection between producers and eaters.
With only a handful of chain grocery stores now dominating the retailing of food across the country, small-scale farmers and processors are looking to farmers' markets as a more accessible venue to move their product into the hands of ravenous supporters of local food and local economies. Halifax is a leading example of an urban centre that is quickly taking advantage of this growing support.
The Current Space
The Halifax market is currently housed once a week in multiple rooms within the Alexander Keith's brewery building in the city's downtown. By 10am every Saturday you'd be hard-pressed to find a space to maneuver through the crowds and even by 9am line-ups of twenty plus can be seen extending from many of the market stalls.
Recognizing the need to find a new and permanent location, market general manager Fred Kilcup has worked for many years gathering support from all three levels of government. Eight years later, the result has been an amazing example of just how ready government is to stimulate local and regional food systems. Support from the federal government totaled $2million, the Province of Nova Scotia put in $2.25million and the Halifax Regional Municipality $1million. That alone is reason to celebrate, but also introduced has been an innovative model for accessing funds from the public. Introduced was the Farmers' Market Investment Co-operative (FMIC), which seeks to raise $2.25million by the time the Seaport Market is expected to open in June 2010. Nova Scotia's Community Economic Development Fund permits residents to invest $1,000 or more and receive 60% equity tax credit on their provincial income tax over 15 years. Hundreds of people have now invested in this co-operative to take advantage of the tax savings and to put their money into an important cause.
FMIC executive director Gordon Michael believes the co-op might one day be able to act as an investor to producers themselves - assisting them to grow their business with more secure financing than can normally be accessed.
More Than Just a Market
The new Seaport Market will provide residents and producers with more opportunity to sell and purchase product. The market will become home to permanent vendors, many of whom are already selling their product at the current market, and it will also provide the traditional farmers' market venue three days a week instead of just one day. This will provide many of the producers who are only growing food for a short period of the year to have more opportunities to sell their product. The greater access to customers is also expected to have a noticeable impact on the amount of food being produced in the province for local consumption. Kilcup and Michael believe that the market will act as a "catalyst" for producers to see that with a more consistent venue to sell their product in, they can actually go out and produce more of it.
There are hopes that the market will also introduce supportive businesses such as a commercial kitchen to be housed within the market itself. There is also hope that schools will take an interest in visiting the market and its planned rooftop garden which will produce a variety of foods.
Vermont's Bill McKibben (author of Deep Economy) on the role of Farmers' Markets
"Farmers' markets offer a different experience," says Bill McKibben. "A pair of sociologists followed shoppers around a supermarket and a farmers' market and they found that people have ten times more conversations at farmers' markets than they do at the supermarket."
"Every year since the end of WWII, one of the big polling firms has asked Americans, "are you happy with you life?" The number who have said yes peaks in 1956 and goes downhill thereafter. That's weird, because in that time we've tripled the stuff we have, so more is not better. The reason for this, as far as we can tell, is Americans feel a great loss of community and social connection. And that makes sense... what have we done since the 50's? We've spent most of our money building bigger houses out in the suburbs. We just run into each other less!"
"So what we need to do is build local economic institutions like farmers' markets that bring us back into connection with each other."
Deconstructing Dinner is a weekly radio show heard on radio stations around the world and is available as a Podcast. More information on this topic can be found at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/100809.htm
Subscribe to our bi-weekly column's RSS feed
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.