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Farmers’ markets playing important role for small farms in Nova Scotia

Paul Pickrem (paulpickrem@gmail.com) 

Published: Jul 17 at 9:24 a.m. Kings County Advertiser/Valley Harvester

(Link to Article)

Members of the public shop at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market on a Saturday market day. - Paul Pickrem

Bringing growers, consumers face to face

Farmers’ markets across Nova Scotia are seeking to bridge the gap between consumer’s growing interest in eating healthy, locally-grown food and their desire to access that food in the most convenient ways possible.

Kelly Marie Redcliffe has been the manager of the Wolfville Farmers' Market (WFM) for 20 years. She says farmers' markets play an important role in communities by bringing consumers and farmers face to face.

“Eye to eye contact between the customer and the farmer builds trust, and people get to ask the farmer how the produce was grown, how to cook with it. A lot of food skills are developed just by putting people together,” Redcliffe said in a recent interview.

“The less people involved in getting the food to their plate, the less connected they are and the less they think about how the food got there. It means they understand less about the role of the farmer in that process.”

Redcliffe said the markets play a dual role within their communities.

“They play a role as community builders. And they play a role in incubating small farms and agri-producers and makers of handmade products,” she said.

“They act a lot like social enterprises within their community, on the one hand, nourishing the community itself, and on the other hand, growing the local economy. Particularly in the agri-producers sector.”

Leading Canada

Justin Cantafio is the executive director of The Farmers' Markets of Nova Scotia. He said in an email Nova Scotia's farmers' market sector has more than tripled in size since the founding of the Farmers' Markets of Nova Scotia cooperative in 2004.

“In 2004, there were 15 farmers' markets in the province, 11 of which were members of our cooperative. Nova Scotia is now home to over 50 farmers' markets, the most per capita in all of Canada, and 31 of those markets are members of our cooperative,” Cantafio said.

Redcliffe said the farmers’ market sector is getting more sophisticated and is playing a more important role for its vendors and communities these days. More and more markets are operating year-round, have full-time staff and their own facilities, making it possible to serve more vendors and offer a broader range of product to customers year-round.

And, the types of vendors are getting more varied, with more beverages, wine, and newer value-added products like fermented foods. There are also more artisan products.

“As the markets become year-round, the farmers can develop their farms with cold storage and greenhouses so that they can have a longer and more profitable season,” she said.

“WFM has added a mid-week market and an online store to increase the number of sales channels available to its vendors who haven't many other options, just because of their available quantities. This way, both the market and the vendors can grow together.”

And these changes are making a positive difference.

“In 2018 and 2019, our farmers earned 47 per cent of their collective income from our markets. I bet most of them spent a pretty high percentage of that income within our community, too.”

Helping the little guy

Ann Huntley is the president of the WFM and the owner of Moon Tide Farm in Scot's Bay. Huntley has sold food products from her mixed family farm at the market for eight years. She said small scale agri-producers who can't sell into the local chains or food distribution system rely on sales from local farmers markets.

“The Wolfville Farmers' Market has been instrumental in the viability of our farm,” Huntley said.

“A lot of small-scale family farms are making their bread and butter on farmers' market sales on a Saturday morning. Our farms aren’t viable if people don’t show up and shop.

Small scale farms won’t exist if they are not supported.”

Huntley is optimistic that efforts to create new sales opportunities for market vendors outside the Wednesday and Saturday market days, such as the online sales platform called WFM2GO, will help move some small family farms towards sustainability.

The service allows customers to order products from vendors online, which are delivered to 10 drop-off locations between Berwick and Halifax.

“We realize people are looking for local food to fit into their lives in more convenient ways and available in their region and their location rather than coming to the market on market day,” Huntley said.

That's precisely what Kelly Jacques of Bedford wants. She says WFM2GO allows her to access healthy local food and support small farmers.

“It’s very important for me to support local and to eat local,” she said.

“I really like being able to go online and shop for what I want versus trying to fight my way through a busy market. It’s just simple.”

And, added Redcliffe, the farmers should be celebrated for their efforts.

“Our farmers dedicate their lives with extremely long work days and an impressive variety of skills,” Redcliffe said.

“They are growing some truly awesome food while making both the land and our communities healthier for whatever comes next. I wish I could convince everybody just how much impact they can have by simply buying more of their food fresh from people in their community.”

Learn more about WFM2Go

Launched in July 2017 as the first online store offered by a farmers' market in Canada, WFM2Go brings customers and producers closer together with an easy online shopping experience.

How it works:

  • Shop with WFM2Go.ca between Wednesday at 7 p.m. until Monday at 7 p.m.

  • Choose from over 300 local products offered by 30 vendors (produce, meat, dairy, bread, beverages, health products, plants/flowers and more)

  • Farmers and producers pick and pack orders Tuesdays (sometimes even Wednesday morning)

  • Everything is then packed for each customer Wednesday morning at the Market.

  • We deliver orders to hub locations from Berwick to HRM for pick up Wednesday afternoons

  • Available year-round

  • Hub locations are in Berwick, Canning, Wolfville, Windsor, Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax North End, and Upper Tantallon.