Most new retailers would normally wait until their renovations are complete before opening their doors to the public, first impressions can have a lasting effect on new customers. But for farmer Leigh Finck, with a valid business licence there was no reason he couldn’t start putting boxes of produce on tables and letting people come in to shop.
“It's unbelievable,” said Finck, 57, who has resided in the Sea to Sky Corridor since 1977. “There's been an overwhelming response and we're not even open yet. The customers wanted a full time farmers market, seven days a week with free parking and an easy location. It's been on the wish list ever since we started the Whistler Farmers Market. It really is a cooperative effort, we have over 100 volunteers signed up right now. What we're doing is farming, distribution, whole sale, retail and processing. That's what the goal is, but we're not there yet.”
Situated next to David’s Tea on Main Street, where until recently Gordon Food Service were renting an office space, Finck currently has a market-style setup open from
3 to 7 p.m. daily and has three deliveries of produce per week. A walk-in refrigerator is currently under construction, which will allow him to stock temperature-sensitive items. All produce is
100 per cent organic, sourced mainly from Pemberton, Mount Currie and Lillooet with certain items out of season coming from Cawston and Discovery Organics in Vancouver, which imports from Washington State, California and Central and South America. Finck, an organic farmer for over 25 years, personally oversees all produce that comes through his store. He is adamant that small family, fair trade organic offers a significantly better product than commercially available organics.
“The (family farms) aren’t converting big depleted fields,” said Finck.
“By putting more into soil than they are taking out, the end result from a small family farm is a much healthier product.”
But the kicker with organic food has always been the price, usually between 10 to 30 per cent more expensive than non-organic food, sometimes higher. Finck is foregoing the usual markup in order to match non-organic supermarket prices and will be relying on high volume sales to afford the rent. Gauging by the response Finck has received from the community and the fact that he is paying his volunteer workers with food — which they happily accept — he is on track for an official opening in mid-April once all the renovations are completed.
Profit is not the priority for Finck, who manages three farms in the Pemberton/Mount Currie area. His vision with this small organic produce store is to pave the way for a second Whistler Farmers Market at Olympic Plaza on Saturday mornings.
“With the amount of room we have (around Olympic Plaza) it's time to start the ball rolling to help Whistler become a farmers market destination. We're a destination ski resort, we can be a destination farmers market. (We have) the most beautiful soil, the most pure air and water, these are the most important ingredients to having the best food on the planet and it's all in our backyard of Whistler.”
Finck said he has informally approached several council members with the idea and has received positive feedback and with Purebread opening their Village location soon just a few doors down, it makes sense. But whether or not a second Whistler Famers Market becomes a reality, Organic Leigh will be carrying on with giving people an affordable option for higher quality fruits and vegetables.
“Our goal is to help people with their health, their happiness and their youthfulness so they can take advantage of all the activities that Whistler has to offer. We want to improve the energy levels of people and prove to them that it is worth it to support the local fair trading farmers.”