It was 30 years ago that a small group of aspiring market gardeners got together into a group they called the Cariboo Agricultural Producers Association. The first thing they did was shorten their name to Harvest, and the second thing was to re-introduce the concept of a farmers’ market for Quesnel. That first season, only one market was organized, with a handful of vendors. It was held in a grassy and treed area where the Seniors’ Centre now sits, and it ushered in new opportunities for growers and consumers alike.
After a couple of seasons at this location, the market was forced to move as a result of new construction. It bounced from dusty parking lots to other temporary locations for many years, and the fact that it endured the unstable situation is a testament to the tenacity of the farmers and the loyalty of the customer base.
When the market found its permanent home at the Helen Dixon site, opportunities arose for growth and infrastructure improvements. With help from the Quesnel Community and Economic Development Corporation, grant money was sourced to improve water and electrical supplies, provide wheelchair access to washrooms, and build a stage and storage shed.
“We are so fortunate to have such an ideal location,” says current market president Paul Zeegers. “We are on a beautiful grassy field, with all the amenities, and we are right downtown.”
Once the BC Association of Farmers Markets (BCAFM) was formed in the early 90s (a number of Quesnel Farmers’ Market vendors were part of that effort), the Quesnel Market took advantage of working collectively with other markets throughout the province. This included participating in two economic impact assessments, which were conducted by UNBC’s David Connel, and showed that the Quesnel Farmers’ Market generated nearly one million dollars of annual economic activity.
“This study was done over eight years ago, and the numbers would likely be significantly higher today,” says BCAFM president (and local Quesnel vendor) Wylie Bystedt. Wylie has served as president of the provincial association for the past three years.
“Another key role the BCAFM has played is with the introduction of the Nutrition Coupon Program. Through this program, and with support from the Province and Ministry of Health, we collaborate with community organizations and member markets to provide farmers market coupons to lower-income families and seniors,” Bystedt says.
What’s ahead for the market? According to Maggie Dumais, one of the market’s charter vendors, “the biggest challenges of the past are still with us. We are always working to encourage new vendors, especially produce vendors. The more produce options we can supply, the more customers we seem to attract,” she adds.
Now, as we officially enter the summer season, more produce is appearing weekly at the market. Strawberries, cherries, shelling peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, in addition to all kinds of leafy greens, beef and other meats and smoked trout, will be available this Saturday. Along with music by the Milburn Mountain String Band, a 30th Birthday cake will be provided. The market is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday at the corners of Carson and Kinchant.
Rob Borsato is the director of the Quesnel Farmers Market.