As farmers' markets across the province deal with the fallout of COVID-19, Whistler's market has its sights set on Father's Day to open the 2020 season.
"At this point, we will not know what the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis will be on the market. We do know that our starting date will be later than usual, but beyond that, it is too soon to tell," wrote market manager Rossanne Clamp in an email. Typically, the Whistler Farmers' Market (WFM) would have an initial early-season opening in May to coincide with the municipality's Great Outdoors Festival before moving to a regular weekly schedule for its "official" opening around Father's Day, which this year falls on June 21.
In addition to the weekly Sunday market, Clamp said Wednesday markets are still scheduled to go ahead in July and August—but, of course, as with everything COVID-19-related, the situation is fluid.
Just last week, the B.C. Government deemed farmers' markets an essential service, but restricted markets to selling food products only, a major blow to artisan vendors that rely on markets across the province to sell their wares.
In Whistler, it's still too early to tell what the vendor makeup will look like in the wake of Victoria's decision. Clamp said the juried vendor selection process—which moved entirely online this month—is ongoing.
"Farmers' markets that are currently operating are only permitted to sell food products, but of course, this is an evolving issue. We do not know what next week brings, let alone June," said Clamp by email. "Right now, we are looking at all the details for various levels of operation."
As a trusted link in the food supply chain, farmers' markets are poised to capitalize on an otherwise devastating situation, explained Chris Quinlan, former WFM manager and founder of market management software company, MarketWurks.
"One of the benefits of a farmers' market is that you know your producer and you trust them, so you trust the process right from seedling to harvesting to washing it and getting it to the market," he said.
"The fact that this tragic pandemic has taken place, the silver lining is it reinforces the value of knowing where your food is coming from."
The province has also encouraged markets to move online as an easy way for customers to buy local groceries, while ensuring physical distancing measures are being followed. The 145 members of the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets—which includes Whistler—are eligible to receive funding to transition to an online market platform.
"Going online is an option that many farmers' markets across the province are examining, and it is one that we will be considering also," Clamp noted.
Just in the past week, MarketWurks has partnered with Oregon company Local Food Marketplace to assist its clients in making the move online.
"Our concern was to make sure our existing clients have access to it, so that's what we've done and a number of them have taken us up on it," Quinlan said. If anything, the pandemic has served as a vital reminder not only of the essential role markets play in our food systems, but in our wider community, Clamp said.
"I think this crisis has got everyone thinking about how important a local supply chain is to our well-being and security," she said. "A farmers' market allows the community to care for itself."
To stay up to date on the Whistler Farmers' Market, visit whistlerfarmersmarket.org.