Come to the town of Creston on a Saturday morning in the summer and you’ll notice that there is a hub of activity at the west end of Canyon Street near the Chamber of Commerce. What is that you ask? The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market, which in my “locally-biased” opinion is the best market in the Kootenays. However, with the recent announcement of the approved design for a downtown Market Park, Creston seems poised to become one of the best Market Towns not only in the Kootenays, but also in B.C.
The Public Market Place– From Imperial Metropolis to the English Countryside
Someone once said, “you can tell a lot about a town by the quality of its library”. I’d say the same of its markets. As someone who has had the fortune to travel, one of my favourite ways to get a pulse of a town is to find it’s market and get a taste of the food, the people, and the culture all at once.
When I lived in Tokyo, Japan wandering through the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market was one of my most memorable experiences. During a month back-packing in Thailand, I quickly learned that locals didn’t shop in expensive grocery stores full of imported pre-packaged goods, but the street markets filled with locally grown foods. As a budget-oriented backpacker I truly learned to appreciate the old adage “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” from these experiences.
In just five short days, my girlfriend and I will be trading the wintery Creston Valley landscape for a few months in Central America and I’m sure that wisdom will still apply. I’m excited to visit the famous Mercados and Tigiunas in places like San Cristobal de la Casas, Mexico and Antigua, Guatemala, where markets that predate the arrival of the conquistadors exist as they have for hundreds of years; a gathering space for people to buy, sell, barter, or trade as their ancestors did before them.
Likewise, in the Greek and Roman empires any city worth it’s salt had it’s own public market square; from the famous Acropolis in Athens to the Forum in Rome to the still active Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (Constantinople). In the 1300’s the English Crown even gave special “market town” charters to rural communities that had sprung up to host them . Wherever they were built, markets were not only for buying goods, but also for the arts, music, public-gatherings and even executions. In a real sense, the public market was the heartbeat of the community.
The Renaissance of The Local Farmers’ Market
While permanent markets existed in older Canadian cities like Halifax and Toronto, the advent of the train and automobile meant that many communities in central and western Canada grew without consideration of this important infrastructure. Developed during the height of the Canadian railway boom, the town of Creston was sadly one of them.
However, the last fifteen years have seen a renaissance of public farmers’ markets around North America, growing to meet the increasing demand for local food. Across B.C., from Vancouver to Cherryville, markets that started as small, 10+ vendor seasonal events have been growing exponentially in size and frequency.
According to research by the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets and the University of Northern BC, between 2006 and 2012 there has been a whopping 147% increase in sales and a 62% increase in the number of shoppers. The research also highlighted that each visitor to a farmers’ market spends on average $19.22 at businesses located near the market, creating a knock-on positive economic impact in the community!
The Creston Valley’s Untapped Market Potential
The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market’s success mirrors these trends. With humble roots dating back to 2003, it was started as a small, volunteer-run summer-only market with 10+ vendors. Since then, under the oversight of the non-profit Creston Valley Food Action Coalition, manager Jen Comer has helped it grow into a year-round market that regularly draws +40 vendors and annually generates $1.72 million of economic benefit for the community.
The Farmers’ Market has also become a crucial “incubator” for small food and craft entrepreneurs like Fork Food Truck. In a time when renting premium commercial space can inhibit new untested businesses, the market provides a low-cost opportunity for entrepreneurs to test the market before expanding their businesses beyond it. As former Iowa governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted, “Many young and beginning farmers start out in local markets. Some stay there, and some scale up”.
Finally, When the market runs downtown, it becomes the hub of activity, providing locals with fresh in-season produce, while giving road-weary tourists a reason to stop, pick-up some fresh goodies, and explore the town! In turn market patrons spend the money not only at the market, but also in other downtown businesses!
The only piece missing has been a permanent setting for a market. Since it’s establishment in 2003, the Farmers’ Market has moved to multiple temporary summer and winter locations. Only in it’s latest move to the lot beside the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2011 has the Market finally found a stable summer home. However, despite this the location still lacks some important amenities and services necessary to stay through the shoulder seasons, a problem faced by many farmers’ markets in B.C according to research by the Sauder School of Business at UBC.
However, farmers’ markets and municipalities across Canada have begun teaming up to find a solution for housing permanent farmers’ markets, recognizing the vast economic and social benefits they have. For example, the Halifax Farmers’ Market has just signed a 45 year lease with the Halifax Port Authority to use the newly built, state-of-the-art Seaside Market as it’s home.
The Creston Market Park –Community Heart & Soul
Since the CV Farmers’ Market’s last move, the Town of Creston has also begun envisioning a permanent farmers’ market as a hub for the community. “If you want to establish connectivity in your community, it needs a heart” explained Town Manager Lou Varela to me in an interview on the topic. So in 2011, following consultations with the Creston Valley Food Action Coalition (CVFAC), the Creston Town Council voted to hire landscape architect Alison Mewett and architect Tom Dishlevoy to develop a conceptual design for this community heart.
In January 2016, after almost four years of planning, the Creston Market Park conceptual design was finally presented to the Creston Town Council. Following it’s unveiling I was also able to get a copy of that design that I have linked here on the website! WARNING! If you aren’t from Creston this may cause you to go green with envy.
The design envisions a permanent Farmers’ Market as one of three distinct areas of the park, the other two being the:
- Re-designed exterior of the Creston Valley Visitors Centre and,
- Yaqan Nukiy Amakis First Nations Park.
With a covered patio, plaza, and amphitheater the CV Visitors Centre would anchor the park at the north end and provide out-of-towners with amenities during a visit. At the southeast end of the park near Extra Foods, the Yaqan Nukiy Amakis Park’s native plant garden, gathering circle, and indigenous art will showcase the legacy of the local Yaqan Nukiy Ktunaxa people.
Last but definitely not least, the Farmers’ Market will be couched in the middle of the park with 16 covered vendor stalls, space for up to 70 more, public washrooms, a picnic area, and tons of green space and trees (a welcome facelift for the current dirt lot).
After it’s unveiling last month, the Creston Council voted to adopt the present Market Park design, which is a great step and will give the Town of Creston something to show potential funders as opportunities become available. However, until funding sources can be found, further detailed design and engineer work is on hold. Thus, while the Market Park announcement has generated a lot of buzz and excitement, don’t expect to see shovels in the ground this summer.
Local and Global Influences Make Market Park a Timely Idea
However, with a growing momentum around the Creston Valley’s agriculture & tourism sectors, this announcement feels perfectly timed. As I mentioned in my last post, the Creston & District Community Directed Funds Committee (CDCDFC) highlighted supporting the local agriculture sector as a community priority.
This in turn lead the Fields Forward Initiative to dedicate one of its eight working groups to the project, which has been quick to get to work. Following up on BCAFM’s research, volunteers like myself surveyed market-goers to track how much they are spending at the market, how often they are coming, and where they are coming from. For it’s part the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market hopes to highlight just how important the market is to the community and share that story with potential funders.
Finally, with the declining value of the Canadian dollar and continued drought in California, food prices at grocery stores across Canada are rising quickly. Consequently, buying local goods at farmers’ markets will likely become a more affordable option for all British Columbians, 74% of whom have even expressed a willingness to pay up to 25% more for “local” produce. Conversely, the fall in the dollar will also bring more tourism from south of the border and demand for local “specialty” goods found at farmers’ markets.
Conclusion: A Bull Forecast for Creston’s Farmers’ Market Future
Due to these local and global forces, it seems certain that farmers’ markets across Canada will continue to grow rapidly to meet demand for local food and foster the new entrepreneurs who respond to it, subsequently creating new economic development and addressing issues like local food security. Consequently, as a clear sign of this success, many markets in Canada have already outgrown their temporary homes and are seeking permanent and long-term solutions to sustain this impressive success.
Looking across the globe and even close to home, it is clear that municipalities are often important partners in fostering the growth of markets and also have the most to gain from this growth, supporting local business opportunities and keeping money invested in their communities. With the proposed development of the Creston Market Park, one has to commend the Town of Creston for it’s foresight in recognizing this potential and progressiveness in investing in it. It’s one that our community can be proud of and will surely become a template for other communities!