Permanent farmers’ market in Nanaimo almost ready to take root

NANAIMO – Directors hopeful lease agreement for 540 Milton St. will be signed, market could open in August.

A director of the Island Roots Market Co-op says the city’s first permanent indoor farmers’ market could start as soon as August if a written offer to lease is agreed to.

Larry Whaley, one of four founding members of the project, said a verbal agreement has been made with the property owner at 540 Milton St., but a five-year lease is still awaiting finalization.

If approved, the building could be ready just as the market season kicks into high gear.

“August is peak season and there should be plenty of producers around with product that they need to sell,” said Whaley. “It will give people an opportunity to come down and see what I think is going to be an absolutely terrific location. It looks like a big barn, is very easy to get to and there is plenty of parking.”

Last July, Island Roots Market Co-op formally registered as a co-op using the co-operative economic model and international co-op principals to address four local issues including social, cultural, economic and environmental.

The intent of the market is to encourage more people to grow food locally while providing a permanent space to sell it and satisfy a growing consumer demand for local food.

Dirk Becker, a Lantzville farmer and founder of the Bowen Road farmers’ market, said more and more people are trying to make a living as farmers but current seasonal outdoor markets don’t have enough room or demand for every producer.

“In short, local food is on the up, no question. We used to have one couple a year coming to us and asking ‘can you show us how to do this?’ and now we have six,” said Becker. “The modifier, the not so good part, is that the amount we’re reading and hearing about this … is not being reflected in the amount people are purchasing. There is this gap, this leap between awareness and action.”

Some new farmers, some of them in their 20s and 30s, have been turned away from local markets because there isn’t enough demand and have had to sell their produce through farm gate sales.

By providing a year-round indoor space, Becker, also a director of the co-op, said he hopes the act of shopping for local food becomes more consistent and widespread, thus increasing demand and availability.

“Not just on sunny days at an outdoor market,” he said. “Buying a loaf of bread and taking it home and telling all of your friends you buy local doesn’t pay the bills.”

At off-peak times, typically November and December when there isn’t much local produce to sell, Whaley said the indoor market can continue to be an attraction by selling seasonal products like Christmas crafts.

Another key goal of the market is to provide staff so farmers can spend more time farming rather than selling.

“We’ll start off as a traditional market where the producers will have to be there to sell their stuff,” said Whaley. “We’ll see how that goes but I expect by next spring we’ll be offering an alternative where producers can have their items on hand at the market and we’ll provide the staff to sell it.

“But our first step will be to get the market established.”