Any city worth its salt has a market where people can congregate, purchase local food while supporting farmers, and socialize.
Ottawa has its Byward Market, Toronto its Kensington, Seattle its Pike Place and Calgary its Farmers’ Market.
Nanaimo hopes to join that list soon with the development of the Island Roots Market, a year-round, indoor co-operative effort designed to give local food producers an outlet to sell their food while encouraging local farming.
The idea, said Larry Whaley, co-founder, was borne from an Occupy Nanaimo general assembly where many young attendees indicated they wanted to farm for a living but doubted they could make a decent living at it in the mid-Island region.
Whaley said he believed if there was a permanent venue to sell local food, an opportunity for these people to get to work might exist.
On July 17, the Island Roots Market formally registered as a co-op with four founding members, using the co-operative economic model (one member, one vote) and international co-op principals to deal with four local issues including social, cultural, economic and environmental.
The difference from other markets, said Whaley, is that farmers and artisans at Nanaimo’s market won’t be required to be in attendance to oversee their sales.
“At other markets, producers or employees of producers have to be there,” said Whaley. “We’re eliminating that because farmers and artisans are busy people and we want them to be doing what they do best, which is obviously growing the food that we love to eat.”
Instead, co-op employees will gather the food produced by local farmers and take them to market and sell it on their behalf. A small percentage of the revenue will go to the co-op to cover expenses, and farmers will pay rent for display space in coolers or other market locations while setting their own prices for their products. Farmers will be paid for sold products every two weeks.
“We may ask (producers) to be there one morning or afternoon each week because consumers like to know who is producing the food that they eat and that will give them the opportunity to meet those producers,” said Whaley.
The current plan is to have the market open Thursday through Sunday at a location yet to be determined, but likely somewhere in central Nanaimo between Townsite and Mostar roads. The market is expected to open in spring 2013.
Whaley said local food producers are already enthusiastic about the prospect of a permanent market.
So is Nanaimo councillor Jim Kipp. He said he’s already purchased his membership because the market is something he strongly supports, and because it meets several objectives of the city’s official community plan and corporate strategic plan.
“People can grow all they want but if they can’t get it to marketplace consumers won’t be able to access that 100-mile food. It’s important to me,” said Kipp.
He added that a marketplace fits in to city hall’s goals on food security, the local economy, social issues and cultural issues.
“You have to make something to make economy,” he said. “If you’re always exchanging things eventually it runs out, like a pyramid scheme. But when you create something it’s a positive thing.”
A.J. Hustins, chairman of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, said the idea of the market will be brought to the NEDC’s board in the future to determine how it will fit in to the city’s economic development plan, but on a personal level he strongly supports it.
“It sounds like a great idea. I personally have a background in formal education and ownership in the agricultural industry so it’s close to my heart,” he said, adding he was a vendor at Halifax’s farmers’ market, one of the largest and oldest in the country, for five years.
Hustins said he is confident that any business person would support the idea of a permanent market in Nanaimo.
“It’s a great way to bring the community together while offering good quality food stuff,” he said.
Already, several local suppliers have signed on to the project as the idea takes root. Whaley said the long-term goal is to turn the market into a destination for locals and visitors.
“The goal is to create a landmark,” he said.
The co-operative’s first annual general meeting takes place Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bowen Road Complex in activity room No. 1, and will include the election of seven directors.
For more information, please visit www.islandroots