A customer browses at the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market in March

A customer browses at the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market in March

Alberni Valley sees explosion of farmers-style markets

Alberni boasts three weekend markets—two farmers’ and one craft—and one seasonal mid-week summer market for residents and visitors alike

Twenty years ago, a group of Alberni Valley farmers got together to sell their produce as a collective, rather than from their own farmers’ gates. They were a mainstay at Harbour Quay in the summer, and a few hearty souls stuck around in the fall.

Now, going on two decades later, the market trend has exploded. The Alberni Valley now boasts three weekend markets—two farmers’ and one craft—and one seasonal mid-week summer market for residents and visitors alike.

Last winter many of the vendors from the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market wanted to move to an indoor venue, feeling that Harbour Quay was too exposed for inclement winter weather. They chose the First Baptist Church, or former elementary school in Cherry Creek. Vendors set up indoors and under cover outside.

The decision wasn’t unanimous, however: Vicky Lee of The Lee Farm and the Swanns from Leda Organic Farm were two vendors who decided it was better to stay at the original location.

“The ones that are here, like ourselves and the Swanns…I’ve been there for 15 years,” Lee said. “There have been some internal problems with the group. Some said we needed to move indoors.”

Lee disagreed, and stayed with her Harbour Quay location—as did a few other vendors.

When the original farmers’ market voted last spring to stay at the Cherry Creek location, Lee and others who wanted to stay at Harbour Quay broke off and formed their own collective, the Spirit Square Farmers’ Market.

So yes, the Alberni Valley now has two official Saturday farmers’ markets: Port Alberni Farmers’ Market at the First Baptist Church in Cherry Creek, and Spirit Square Farmers’ Market at Harbour Quay.

“I think it’s a great idea,” says Lee of the two markets. “I think the city is large enough and sophisticated enough to support two markets. I don’t think there is a downside to it.

“From our point of view it’s all about building the local economy.”

There have also been other farmers’ markets that have come and gone, such as Arrowvale Farm and Campground’s market, or Farmer Bill’s, which started in 1996 and ran for seven years (Farmer Bill is now at the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market). Some farms still sell their produce individually, and Naesgaard’s Farm Market is a commercial enterprise operating on River Road. Here is a breakdown of the weekend markets appearing regularly.

Port Alberni Farmers’ Market

The Port Alberni Farmers’ Market is open Saturdays both indoors and out from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the First Baptist Church on Cherry Creek Road.

The Port Alberni Farmers’ Market decided in the spring to stay at its new Cherry Creek location. They informed the city, which rents out Harbour Quay, that they were comfortable with the movek, said Bill Thomson, farmers’ market board chairman. “We looked back at what we left behind and we’re better off where we’re at,” he said.

The parking is better, and vendors have three options available: indoors, outdoors under a canopy or outdoors with their own tents.

“What we’re doing now is we’re tailgating and that’s the proper concept of the farmers’ market,” Thomson said.

There are 41 members of this market, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and 31 vendors are usually on site any given Saturday. “It’s growing more and more as vegetables come in,” he said. “That’s the advantage of where we’re at; we can expand.”

Their numbers have increased since they made the move, Thomson added. “Even in January our numbers were up. Sales were up 20 per cent.”

Spirit Square Farmers’ Market

The Spirit Square Farmers’ Market is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Harbour Quay. There are 20 vendors signed up, and they run year round depending on the growing season.

“We’re much more food oriented and farm oriented,” Lee said. “We don’t do crafts. We’re into local produce.”

The Lee Farm recently rented one of the Harbour Quay permanent spots, too, and operates inside and sheltered every weekend. They had a great winter at the Spirit Square market, she added.

Sunday Craft Market

The Sunday Craft Market was borne of an errant comment from a vendor at the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market when it was still at Harbour Quay.

Someone said they shouldn’t have crafters at the farmers’ market. Gwen Lowe, who runs Nobby’s Wooden Toys, said she would be willing to operate a craft market on Sundays, but urged crafters not to give up their spots at the farmers’ market right away.

“They can’t run a market without them,” said Lowe, adding that there aren’t enough farmers in the Alberni Valley to run a market exclusive to farmers. “We wish there were.”

That first year they started with eight vendors, but the numbers fluctuated. “There was no consistency,” Lowe said. “They stuck with us and now we’ve built it up.

This year, the craft market’s fourth, there are 26 vendors, and 18 of them have paid in advance for their tables. “We have a very good selection.”

“What everybody likes about (the craft market) is they don’t have to phone to come,” she said. “It’s drop-in.”

The craft market also welcomes buskers, Lowe said.

Chris Massop and his wife Susan, who operate under the name Tinkles and Timbers, have been going to the craft market since its second year. They’ve watched the market grow just as their own business has. Susan creates wind chimes and other garden “bling” with antique teapots, spoons and beads. Chris creates wooden treasures for the home and garden, from one-of-a-kind planters and coat hooks to trellises and fairy houses.

The Massops have expanded their market exposure to include the Saturday market in Cherry Creek, and this year have been invited to participate in an art and garden event in Nanoose later this month.

Lowe noted that many of the crafters who started at the farmers’ market kept their spots, and like the Massops, now appear at both locations.

The craft market runs seasonally on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Harbour Quay, inside Spirit Square. It opens the first Sunday in May and closes the last Sunday in September. The market features artisans and crafters with woodworking, jewelry, paintings, knitting, homemade soaps and oils, wooden bowls and even fresh produce and bakery products.

Wednesday Sunset Market

The Sunset Market returned to Victoria Quay on June 25. In its second year, the market—which runs Wednesdays from 6–9 p.m. at the “other” quay, along the waterfront boardwalk of the Somass River—is a partnership between the Hupacasath First Nation and the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce.

After three successful evenings in July and August last year, the Sunset Market is scheduled to run 10 evenings in summer 2014.

“This year we have secured more entertainment options and of course we’re planning for more vendors,” Jolleen Dick, coordinator for the market, stated in a press release.

“The Victoria Quay location is a most desirable venue as it has the ability to attract residents, visitors and people travelling through en-route to other destinations,” said Dick.

“The vendors … are set up along the boardwalk with the entertainment settled in front of the Welcoming Figures providing for wonderful views from all areas. As the name implies, all visitors to the event are bound to enjoy magical sunsets over the Somass River and during low tides the added value of wildlife, including bears, is quite possible for additional enjoyment,” she said.

Both the chamber and Hupacasath plan for continued growth of this mid-week summer market, and Dick said the added exposure will “(provide) our vendors with fantastic growth opportunities for years to come.”

Visit www.sunsetmarketpa.com to register as a vendor, or contact Dick at 250-724-4041 or jolleen@sunsetmarketpa.com.