For all the ways COVID-19 has disrupted innumerable sectors over the past year and a half, you could make a solid case that farmers’ markets near and far actually stood to benefit from the pandemic’s so-called silver linings we have heard so much about.
After all, people are thinking more deeply about the environmental footprint they leave behind, and with the pandemic wreaking havoc on global food supply chains, the push to buy local has never been stronger.
“People were so keen to support their local small businesses because at the end of the day that’s what farmers’ markets are: local small businesses,” said Melissa Maltais, membership and programs lead at BC Farmers Markets, a non-profit representing more than 145 markets in B.C.
That’s not to say farmers’ markets have had it easy either. Farms have experienced staff shortages just like everyone else, while record-breaking heat waves in B.C. this summer spoiled crops across the province—all on top of having to navigate COVID protocols at the height of a global health crisis.
That’s what makes the association’s BC Farmers’ Market Trail so timely in a summer when British Columbians were keen to explore their own backyard and markets were just as eager to welcome new clientele. Launched in 2018, the trail website and app is the definitive guide to the diversity of farmers’ markets in B.C.
More than just a list of locations and operating hours, the trail goes a step further to highlight the distinct regional flavour of the province’s markets as well as showcase their signature elements. Looking for a market in the Interior where you can park your car and bring your dog? The trail has got you covered. Or maybe you’re looking for a particular local delicacy to pick up fresh or order online? The website can help there, too.
Ultimately, it strives to give you a taste of the distinct flavour of each market, the next best thing to showing up in person on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
“It gives you a great feel of just how unique each market can be,” Maltais said. “It’s just a really user-friendly way to be able to find all of the information you need.”
Although it’s difficult to quantify how the trail has increased the Whistler Farmers’ Market’s profile, manager Bree Eagles said, especially in its first year at the new Whistler Racket Club location, “any exposure for us is super valuable.”
Moving from its long-time home in the Upper Village, Eagles said the Whistler market has proven to be a locals’ favourite in its village-adjacent location.
“Considering all the challenges that we’ve had relating to COVID, we’re stoked with how the season is going at the Racket Club. It’s really working out well for us,” she noted. “There’s a really strong community vibe and feel and that’s been a really nice thing to witness.”
The relocation has meant forging new partnerships and emphasizing social media and wayfinding to spread the word of the market’s new home, but Eagles said while it hasn’t been quite as busy as the Upper Village, she has been “pleasantly surprised” by the number of return visitors throughout the summer.
Although it benefitted from being outdoors, the market, like other local ventures, has also had to manage the shifting reality of COVID-19 and its associated measures.
“Over the course of this year, the health and safety restrictions that were in place at the beginning of the season—things like managing market capacity and direction of the market and having everything roped off—that put a lot of strain on us to hire staff and make sure we were ticking all these boxes,” Eagles said. “We’ve tried to find a nice balance between creating some freedom and space in the market but also keeping people comfortable.”
The market also adjusted its hours partway through the season to open at 10 a.m. and close by 3 p.m., an hour earlier than the original plan, as Eagles and her staff noticed the demand from shoppers to start their day earlier.
“That seems to be a really positive shift for us,” she added. “I was a little concerned about changing the hours halfway through the season but it seems to be really well received.”
There are still several weeks left of the market, with the final Sunday set for Oct. 10.
Check out the Whistler Farmers’ Market on Facebook or whistlerfarmersmarket.org for updates and the list of participating vendors each week.