Farmers’ markets have traditionally been seen as a weekend destination for a particular demographic, namely those with enough income to spend a little extra for fresh, local produce.
But that’s not the case for the Whistler Farmers’ Market, which — in partnership with the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets and local farmers — donated thousands of dollars worth of food this season to those who use the Whistler Food Bank.
“What’s been most exciting for me is if I look at the history of it and where it’s going,” said Cheryl Skribe, executive director of Whistler Community Services Society, which runs the food bank. “The Whistler Farmers’ Market — which is a non-profit — they have acknowledged that our client base doesn’t always have the same opportunities as their (traditional customers) to go to the market and so they’ve allowed our clients to have an opportunity that they may not have been able to get otherwise. I think what I like most about it is it’s really about community helping community.”
WCSS has been able to offer clients vouchers to redeem at the farmers’ market through two different programs. The first is directly through the Whistler Farmers’ Market, which provides $3,000 in vouchers that are distributed every week throughout the summer at the food bank. The B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets — a provincial program — runs the second program for financially restricted families and seniors. They offer $7,200 in food vouchers to be redeemed at the Whistler Farmers’ Market and, as part of the program, WCSS also offers recipients access to food skills and nutrition workshops with experts.
“That program is fairly new and we’re evolving with it too, as they are,” Skribe said.
It’s run with support from the provincial government, which has committed to funding it for at least two more years.
One other way the food bank has been working with the market to bring fresh food to those in need: food bank representatives visit vendors after the market has wrapped up each week to see if they have any food they’d like to donate. Then on Monday that food is used to make meals as part of the food bank’s Hot Lunch program.
“Some of it is stuff they haven’t sold and aren’t able to sell, but sometimes they just want to help the food bank,” said Sara Jennings, coordinator of the food bank. “They’re happy to help. It’s nice to get fresh produce. The variety we get is amazing. To be able to provide our clients with a wide range of food has been wonderful. For some people, it’s the first time they’ve interacted with (unusual produce). It’s been an education process too. They’re eager to try new things if you give them a few suggestions how to prepare them.”
For its part, the farmers’ market started providing $1,000 worth of vouchers six years ago before raising it to $3,000. “It’s a good program; it’s core to our values,” said Chris Quinlan, manager of the market. “If it wasn’t for the community that supports us then we wouldn’t exist…. When you get the opportunity to introduce somebody to fresh produce who might not have access to it, it can be life changing for them.”
The farmers’ market runs every Sunday until Oct. 9.