Thought for Food: Getting fresh with the locals

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“A record year.” This is the opening line to the Creston Valley Food Action Coalition’s report on the stellar success of the 2010 Creston Valley Farmers’ Market. Record number of vendors, record number of patrons, record sales. The report, created and stunningly presented by market manager Jen Comer, is a testament to the hard work, dedication and sheer determination of a devoted group of people fiercely committed to a vision of a Creston Valley farmers’ market whose time had come.

Creston has had a farmers’ market in one incarnation or another as far back as anyone can remember — from a couple of pickup trucks in a back alley to the current location adjacent to Millennium Park. It’s a no-brainer, right? Creston produces some of the finest agricultural products in the province, so a thriving farmers’ market would naturally be a big player on the local summer scene. But for a variety of reasons Creston’s farmers’ market has for the most part remained a mere hint of its true self. Despite the tireless efforts of an army of volunteers and modest success, the market languished, somehow not able to attract the vendors or patrons to make it truly flourish.

In 2007 the Rotary Club of Creston assumed management of the Creston market, not because this role was within their club purview, but because if they didn’t, the market would close. In 2008 Rotary approached the Creston Valley Food Action Coalition, seeking a partnership and eventual new overseer for the little market.

Two years and about two zillion hours of volunteer work later, the 2010 Creston Valley Farmers’ Market boasts a record year, at last beginning to reveal its true potential as a showcase of local food, art, music, crafts and community spirit.

Key to this newfound success was the labour-intensive preparation of a 38-page business plan that examined past successes and failures, as well as opportunities and concrete plans for the future. This document provides the foundation that will enable the market to grow into a vibrant, self-sustaining, community endeavour that celebrates the natural and human bounty of this valley.

The first step in the business plan was to hire a market manager to assume responsibility for essential duties crucial to market operations. The bundle of ability, enthusiasm, talent and energy that is Jen Comer embodies exactly what the market needed to bring the business plan to life, to begin to construct the stepping stones that will bridge the gap between what the market was and what it will become.

The future looks extremely bright. With a grant from the Town of Creston through Kootenay Rockies Tourism, 2011 will see the implementation of much needed marketing and communication strategies such as advertising, signage and other promotional pieces, bringing exposure to locals and visitors alike. Not only will the market start up earlier (May 7), the addition of a mid-week market in the downtown core will provide additional opportunities for vendors and shoppers. Entertaining, educational activities will complement the wide variety of doings already present at the market. Simply put, the 2011 farmers’ market promises to be a fun-filled, food-filled and generally must-attend semi-weekly event in Creston!

Of course none of this would be possible without the undying support of a host of volunteers and sponsors who share a dream of a world-class farmers’ market for our valley. The Creston Valley Food Action Coalition fervently thanks the Creston Rotary Club for stepping in when the market was facing a dark hour, the “transition committee” — Michael Byrne, Geri Lee, Sheila Lemieux, Caroline Martin, Len Parkin, Jessica Piccinin, Karen Powis, Kate Webb, Erika Woker , and Susan Binks — sponsors Regional District of Central Kootenay Areas A, B and C, CIDO 97.7 FM, Creston Valley Advance and the Town of Creston, all the volunteers, especially Jim Comer, Joel Comer, Val Comer, Alexandra Dansereau, Jeanne Kay Guelke, Heather More and Jennie Truscott, the current managing committee, and participants in the market — vendors, musicians and patrons.

I leave you with highlights from the farmers’ market 2010 year-end report. The full report may be downloaded from the Creston Valley Food Action Coalition’s website: cvfoodaction.ca.

• Number of vendors who were members of the 2010 market: 110

• Average number of vendors selling each week: 30

• Record number of vendors at the market: 41

• Number of hours donated by volunteers on market day: 143

The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market operated every Saturday from June 19-Dec. 18, making it the season’s longest running market in the Kootenays.

The farmers’ market is always looking for additional vendors and volunteers. If you are interested in being a part of the coolest thing to hit Creston since high speed Internet, contact market manager Jen Comer at cvfarmersmarket@gmail.com.

Gail Southall is a local food advocate working to promote the wisdom of a dynamic, locally-sustained food structure based on the wellbeing of the land, the people, and their inter-relationships.

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