HAC in the Community: A Market for Change
Over the summer months, members of the eastern Alberta community of St. Paul may have noticed a few changes in their weekly stop at the Farmers' Market. Perhaps they've noticed that their shopping has been set to the music of budding local musicians. Or maybe it is taking a little longer to peruse the additional local vendors and their wide array of food items and crafts. Some shoppers may find they are frequently running into and reconnecting with friends and neighbours. And many have been seen leaving the market stocked with top quality food and unique craft items. These changes all result from a project to revive the market. This project was spearheaded by the newly elected St. Paul Farmers' Market Vendor Committee.
With the support of Healthy Alberta Communities (HAC) and the St. Paul Community Learning Association, the Vendor Committee has initiated some improvements to the St. Paul Farmers' Market. The committee came together in early spring 2007. Since then, the Farmers' Market has grown from 6 to 23 regular vendors. Patronage has greatly increased. The weekly market has longer hours, and is now open year-round.
HAC Community Coordinator, Margo Fauchon, sees the Farmers' Market as a great way to promote both local buying and healthy environments. "The market is a good way to support local businesses and residents", she comments. "But, it also has benefits in an environmental context." Items produced and sold locally reduce pollution compared to products that are transported form a distance. Also, many of the vendors use green production methods.
Fauchon sees potential for the market to help build a sense of community. The Vendor Committee has recently decided to invite non-profit groups to take part in the Farmers' Market. Groups will be able to advertise their services. They may also use their space at the Farmers' Market for fundraising projects. The increased variety of vendors will add new flavour to the market. It will connect people from different parts of the community.
The Farmers' Market project emerged in response to the need for more "third places" in St. Paul. A third place is a spot - other than a first place (home) or second place (work) - where friends, neighbours and any one else can gether on neutral ground, and feel like part of the community. The Farmers' Market in St. Paul makes a great third place. Located in the town recreational centre, the market is easy to get to and accessible by all. It is a place for people to express their individuality and creativity, and connect with others. Shoppers at the Farmers' Market can visit with friends or flip through used books and magazines in the coffee/tea area. As the Farmers' Market continues to grow, more areas for social activities will be added. This may include games tables for chess and checkers. Also, the Vendor Committee hopes to create a 'bistro' atmosphere, where people will be able to enjoy a bowl of soup or snacks from the market.
During this project, the guidance and financial support of HAC has enabled the hiring of a part-time Farmers' Market Manager. The manager works to enhance the market for both vendors and shoppers. Part of their job is to oversee the operation and promotion of the market. The manager also provides vendors with access to training and resources. These tools will help to develop their businesses, and connect them with other markets. Sustaining positive changes at the market is a priority for the Vendor Committee and the manager, and will ensure a successful market in the coming yhears.
The St. Paul Farmers' Market has caught the attention of the Alberta Farmers' Market Association. The market is unique because it is managed jointly by a Vendor's Committee and a paid manager. If successful in St. Paul, other towns in Alberta may consider changing the way they run their markets.
With the support of HAC, the St. Paul Farmers' Market is well on its way to achieving its vision of becoming a "prominent place in the community, a destination where people can meet to purchase locally grown and produced food, food products and speciality artisan items". (St. Paul Vendor Committee Vision, 2007)