Jul 1, 2006 | Marmot, Summer 2007

Get it Fresh from the Comox Valley Farmers Market

The first thing that hits us as we alight from the car on a Saturday morning at the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market is an assault on the senses: the sounds of folk music coming from the covered stage; fresh coffee smells wafting over the light spring breeze; the colourful flowers, herbs and vegetables gracing tables and tailgates.

The market is more than just a place to buy fresh quality produce – it is a social event that residents and visitors alike enjoy throughout the summer and winter months.

The rules of the market require that all goods sold must be grown, raised and gathered in the Comox Strathcona Regional District. There are now 65 vendors that regularly attend the markets.

The Comox Valley Farmer’s Market began in 1992 with a handful of local farmers banding together to offer fresh produce for sale. The first market featured 12 producers. By the end of that year, there were 30 farmers. According to the market’s website, some of the original farmers – like Arden Farm, Kirby Road Farm, Ryegate Farm and On-line Farms – are still selling at the market 15 years later.

Wandering through the farmer’s market now, the produce is more bountiful and the displays more elaborate. That first year, though, the farmers literally sold their wares from the tailgates of their pickup trucks.

In 1993 the producers decided to hire a part-time manager to tend to market affairs, leaving vendors the opportunity to concentrate on their own businesses. Since that first season, the farmer’s market has attracted almost a cult following. It’s become as much about socializing as it has with picking up fresh food from the source.

Go to the market as soon as it opens and you’ll find people lining up for fresh baking. Hundreds of people go through the market in the first hour. The crowds keep coming as the entertainment of the day warms up, and by mid-morning families with small children are sitting languidly in whatever shade they can find, bopping to the beat.

This food event-cum-social gathering is a growing trend in farmer’s markets, notes a 2005 article in B.C.’s Agri-Food Update. “One of the benefits of farmer’s markets that receives little attention is what they do to bridge what I call the urban agricultural divide,” Minister of Agriculture and Lands Pat Bell said.

“By speaking directly with the people who grow and produce the food products, the consumer establishes connectivity with the source, and that’s something we need more of in a world where many youngsters think what they’re eating comes from a supermarket.”

A saunter through the market one sunny June morning results in a mini feast: a taste of cracked pepper cheese from Natural Pastures cheese, a jar of sweet red pepper jelly scored at Watrin Orchard and Farm Market in Comox Japanese sweet treats from one of the many bakeries in attendance.

Of course, no visit to the farmer’s market is complete without a gingerbread man from Heavenly Goodies Bakery, or a gingerbread octopus from Little Orca Bakery (they make several unique shapes in addition to octopuses). The eyes take in a cacophony of colour at several of the fruit, vegetable and flower booths, including countless tubers to grown one’s own dahlias, courtesy of Island Dahlias. Other booths, like Seaview Game Farm and Island Bison, feature game meat; yet others have a selection of organic fruits and vegetables. It’s difficult to know where to start.

There are now three locations for the markets, depending on the day of the week and time of the year.

The original market is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Headquarters Road beside the Comox Valley Curling Club – half an hour away from Mount Washington’s summit.

The downtown market operates at Simms Park on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon throughout the summer.

In the winter, the Saturday market goes indoors at the Native Sons Hall for the waning weeks of the growing season.

For more information on the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market, recipes or growing tips, go online to… www.comoxvalleyfarmersmarket.com.

The Comox Valley Farmer’s Market is worth $1.48 million annually.

That was the conclusion of two economic assessments done on the Farmer’s Market in August 2006. The assessments were done on Saturday, Aug. 5 and Wednesday, Aug. 9 that year to reflect two of the three markets (there is also an indoor market in the winter).

The Comox Valley market is one of about 100 farmer’s markets in B.C., up from 60 in 2000.

The studies also found that the Saturday market typically draws more than 1,900 people – 18 per cent of whom live off Vancouver Island.

The Wednesday market draws nearly 500 people, 22 per cent of them from off-Island.

Nearly half of all respondents said their primary reason for visiting the market was to shop for fresh quality products. In addition to the direct revenues the market brings to Comox Valley producers, it is also responsible for $1.12 million in spin-off business elsewhere in the community.

More from this Issue