FOOD MATTERS: Farmers’ markets offer public nutritional, fresh food choices

Central Vancouver Island is fortunate in having many real farmers’ markets for consumers.

So what is the difference between a farm market and a farmers’ market?

Think about the famous “Goats on the Roof” store in Coombs.

At first glance it looks a little like a collection of farmers’ stalls.

But the cash registers and the sophisticated grocery section where local cheeses mingle with international classics and other exotic delicacies are more like a Far West Fortnum and Mason’s (the famous high-end London grocery store) than a periodic market with many vendors.

Coombs is not even a farm market, which would be owned and operated on farm premises, selling its own produce and maybe “selling on” some out-sourced goods.

Russell’s Farms Market on the Island Highway at Chemainus is a privately-owned market on farm property, selling retail to consumers.

Nanoose Edibles Farm Store is a good example of farm marketing. On Stewart Road in Nanoose, the on-farm store is now open for limited hours in the winter and summer hours Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Prices are “farm gate” wholesale, but not the depressed wholesale behind the cheap produce in supermarkets. Farm gate prices reflect the value of quality local produce.

Granville Island in Vancouver is a public market. Retail space is rented for stores or stalls with products which could be imported from anywhere. A farmers’ market also operates there on a limited summer schedule.

Central Vancouver Island is fortunate in having many real farmers’ markets for discerning consumers with sufficient disposable income to pay the well-earned premiums for healthy, nutritious food sold to us by the growers, bakers and makers.

I would love to see a program like the U.S. food stamps, redeemable at farmers’ markets, so that low-income people would not have to settle for cheap fast food and uninspiring food bank groceries.

The three big issues facing successful farmers’ markets are promotion, fraud concerns and balancing the variety of merchandise.

Social marketing such as Twitter is a good way to motivate customers and send vendors home happy with their sales.

Market operators must also be ready to eject vendors making fraudulent claims about their goods.

Successful markets are besieged with requests from would-be vendors and must use clearly-stated rules to achieve a balanced variety of products.

Here is the line-up of farmers’ markets you might want to check out within reach of Nanaimo.

Cedar, Sundays,  9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Crow & Gate Pub; Comox, Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Comox Valley fairgrounds; Duncan, city square, Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Errington, Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Lantzville, Sundays, 1-4 p.m., 7113 Lantzville Rd; Nanaimo Bowen Road, Wednesdays, 4-6:30 p.m., Beban Park; Nanaimo Downtown, Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Pioneer Waterfront Plaza; and Qualicum Beach, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to noon, Memorial Road.

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society.  She can be reached at marjorieandal

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