The Invermere Farmers market was bustling last Saturday, August 17th. Photo by Ryan Watmough / Columbia Valley Community Economic Development

Largest area farmers’ market disqualified from B.C. listing due to Alberta vendors

Invermere market excluded from BC Association because of out-of-province vendors

The BC Association of Farmers’ Markets has re-launched its online BC Farmers’ Market Trail, touting it as the definitive guide to farmers’ market across the province, but you’ll find neither the downtown Invermere Farmers and Artists Market nor the Fairmont Hot Springs Farmers and Artisans Market on the trail.

The omission may come as surprise – after all the Invermere market is one of, if not the, largest farmers’ market in the East Kootenay, creating large crowds downtown on a weekly basis and often drawing vendors from as far afield as Cranbrook, Kimberley, Golden, and even parts of the West Kootenay and Alberta. And therein this surefire sign of success lies the problem, as it is the Alberta vendors that disqualify the Invermere market (and the Fairmont market) from membership in the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) and consequently the BC Farmers’ Market Trail.

The Invermere market boasts more than 100 vendors, putting it on par or, more often, miles ahead of other East Kootenay farmers’ markets such as those in Creston, Cranbrook (average of 48), Golden (25-35) and Kimberley (45-50), all of which are on the BC Farmers’ Market Trail.

“They (the BCAFM) kind of made the rules for the Lower Mainland,” said Invermere Farmers and Artists Market organizer Ken Carlow, estimating that roughly 20 per cent of the vendors in the Invermere market are out of province. Even a single Alberta vendor is enough to disqualify a market from BCAFM membership.

“Our community is quite close to the Alberta border. A lot of our customers are from Calgary. So it only seems fair to have vendors from Alberta as well,” said Mr. Carlow. “You can’t say to Albertans, ‘hey you are welcome to come buy here, but not sell.’”

Canmore-Banff-based photographer Brandon T. Brown has been selling his iconic wildlife images at the Invermere Farmers and Artists Market for seven years and also finds the market’s exclusion from the BC Farmers’ Market Trail a tad unfair.

Mr. Brown regularly attends the Banff and Canmore farmers’ markets (Banff has 55 vendors at its market, Canmore about 100) as well as Invermere’s and said the Invermere market compares favourably to those ones.

“Banff and Canmore draw mostly tourists. At the Invermere market it’s a lot of second homeowners and locals, who have homes they can put up my prints in,” he said. “It’s (Invermere) a great market for me. Sales are really good there.”

Fairmont Hot Springs Farmers and Artisans Market organizer Ryan Neal acknowledged that there are “quite a few restrictions” with the BCAFM and told the Pioneer that the Fairmont market has opted not to pursue association membership or inclusion in the Farmers’ Market Trail because “we are close to the (Alberta) border and it would limit our vendors.”

“There is no ill will. The BC Farmers’ Market Trail exists to benefit BCAFM members,” BCAFM executive director Heather O’Hara told the Pioneer. “It comes down to whether or not a market wants to adhere to that philosophy (100 per cent* make, bake, grow and no out-of-province vendors). And I think that when we do promote our member markets, everybody (including non BCAFM member markets) wins. And even if a market is not a (BCAFM) member, we care.”

Ms. O’Hara outlined that the no out-of-province vendor rule came after “robust consultation. And the (BCAFM) membership was clear: they wanted a B.C. (only) profile so that customers would feel they are having an authentic B.C. experience.”

But she did concede that the situation is a little different for some markets in the East Kootenay, particularly those close to the Alberta border.

“We are aware of the issue, and we are in the process of gathering data on what is the scale of non B.C.-vendors and what is the impact,” said Ms. O’Hara, adding the BCAFM wants to quantify the issue before having a discussion on it, and needs to decide whether this is something that should be “driven by the entire membership or a single market.”

“It is a dilemma. We try to be accommodating for different markets, but is this something that touches on retaining public trust and transparency in what makes us unique?” she posited. “It (the Alberta vendor issue) definitely affects markets in the (Alberta) border area, your area in particular. We do care and we are listening.”

In the meantime there is still one local farmers’ market in the Columbia Valley that is listed on the trail: the Wednesday night Agri Park Farmers’ Market located at the Windermere District Farmers’ Institute Agri Park by the Invermere crossroads.

“We are part of the trail, because we are part of the association. The (Windermere District) Farmers’ Institute wanted to be part of the association and the only way to be a member is to follow the rules (about make, bake and grow, and about vendors),” said Agri Park Farmer’s Market organizer Margaret Feldmann. “We are pretty much all local farm produce, with a few craft vendors.”

The market season for most local markets will wrap up in less than a month, with the Fairmont Farmers’ Market and Agri Park Farmers’ Market both running until the Labour Day long weekend (or just after) and the Invermere Farmers and Artists Market running until the weekend after Labour Day. The Radium Market and Music on Main (which does not bill itself as a farmers’ market) is every Friday until August 30th, picking up again for the weekend of Sept 20-21st.

* The Pioneer’s initial story quoted that the policy was 80% grow, make, bake etc. their products for sale. The BC Association of Farmers’ Markets has provided the Pioneer with further information following the publication of the intitial story in the Pioneer’s print edition of August 22nd. According to the BCAFM bylaws and policy, farmers’ market membership eligibility requires that a 100% of vendors must be grown or processed in British Columbia. Specifically: Farmers’ Market” means a market located in British Columbia comprised exclusively (100%) of vendors who grow, make, bake, raise or wild harvest the products they sell, all of which products must be grown or processed in British Columbia, and which prioritize primary producers/farmers and food, all in accordance with such criteria as may be established by the Board from time to time.

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