No off-season for farmers market 

Organizers and Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre team up to bring popular weekend event indoors

Each and every Sunday throughout the balmy summer months, extending into the cooler weeks of September and October, tourists and locals flock to the upper village to peruse the local produce, artwork, baking and preserves. But when shoulder season hits, and the weather turns nasty, the market shuts down for winter, and people are left to their own devices to dig up local produce.

Well, that isn’t the case this year.

Caterina Alberti is the manager of the Whistlers Farmers’ Market, tasked with handling logistics, coordinating almost 100 vendors, and meeting with the board of directors, and now, she’s taken on the coordination of a winter farmers’ market, which is to run each Sunday from Oct. 26 until Nov. 30, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre.

“Some of the longtime vendors that have been coming to the Whistler Farmers Market have… in their thoughts, sort of been playing with what it would be like if (they) could have an indoor market,” she said. A lot of local artisans look for other venues to sell their wares during the colder months.

“It is exciting to hear that the vendors at the Whistler Farmers Market are being given the opportunity to sell at a winter market,” Mary Frostbauer, president of the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets, said in a recent press release. “… This is a sign that the farmers market is valued in your community.”

This will be the first indoor farmers market for Whistler, and Alberti is excited at the potential that comes along with the new event. The opportunity kind of fell into her lap about a month and a half ago, when Gwen Baudisch of the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre, got in touch and proposed that the market move into their new space during the winter months at no cost, aside from covering cleaning expenses. Alberti went to meet with Baudisch at the centre, where she was given a tour of the Istken, the downstairs space that resembles a traditional Lil’Wat pit house.

“I looked at this space and I went, ‘oh my God, I can’t believe this beautiful, gracious offer,’” Alberti exclaimed. “I just think it’s amazing.”

Baudisch quickly put together a formal proposal, which was presented to the board via e-mail, and discussed at a meeting in September. Alberti also surveyed vendors to see if there was interest in carrying forward with their efforts after fall.

“I had a really great response, just phenomenal. Everyone was very interested,” she said. “The only ones that said they wouldn’t come were the ones that had made previous commitments.”

Contrary to popular belief, the upcoming weeks are actually strong for some local crops, like apples, pumpkins and other squashes, and there are lots of local farmers who are looking to sell their produce.

“They end up going to restaurants, which is fine, and other places, just not the public anymore, because we just don’t have a venue,” Alberti pointed out.

While there are a few local artisans and vendors who can’t participate in a winter market this year, if all goes well with this six-week pilot project, organizers may be able to make it an annual event.

“By next year, if they’re aware we have a winter market, farmers can plan for that,” she added.

The new space is much smaller than their vast outdoor space in the upper village, which accommodates about 60 to 70 vendors each Sunday. Rather, this winter market will only feature about 15 tables, of which about 25 per cent will offer local fresh produce and prepared, preserved foodstuffs.

It’s also sure to be a reciprocal arrangement for the cultural centre, meant to bring foot traffic through the doors of the new facility, which just opened this summer.

“This fall market is an exciting opportunity to co-mingle local food experts and artisans with our First Nations partners in a wonderful new space, the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre,” Kevin Damaskie, Whistler2020 Sustainability Coordinator, said. “Through free admission, it is not only affordable for locals, but also the overall initiative enhances our visitor experience and supports a real and emerging partnership with Whistler’s First Nation neighbours. The Whistler2020 food strategy is less than a year old and we can see already the seeds planted there starting to bear fruit as we move toward a successful and sustainable future, together.”

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