New Cowichan farm market aims to fill the gap

A mid-week farmers market has been missing from the Cowichan Valley, but as of this week, that won’t be a problem any longer.

The Cowichan Farmers Market opened its doors on June 3, and will run from 4-6:30 p.m. every Wednesday until Oct. 28 in the fields between the Trans-Canada Highway, the Island Savings Centre and Vancouver Island University.

"We’ve been talking about it for years, but no one started it," said Heather McLeod of Makaria Farm on Bench Road, a longtime vendor at the Duncan Farmers Market and one of the main forces behind the Cowichan Farmers Market.

The rationale for starting the market was twofold, McLeod explained. Most of the vendors at the Cowichan Farmers Market also sell at the Duncan market (and many also have farm stands) but the times that the Duncan market is open don’t work for everyone.

"Some people can’t come because they work on the weekend, or their kids are in activities," McLeod said. "This created another option for them."

Another market also gives local farms and producers another place to sell their wares.

"As a vendor, our business is growing, we’re growing more vegetables than ever before," she added. "We need more outlets."

There is no intention to compete with the yearround Saturday market, but the vendors at the CFM are excited about getting to start fresh.

"We have ideas, and we’re excited to put them into action," McLeod said.

The CFM will start with between 20 and 30 vendors and will be strictly farm-and food-focused for the first year. There will be plenty of entertainment for shoppers, and partnerships with community groups, such as Wendy’s House, which shares the same plot of land and runs learning programs. The highly visible location beside the Trans-Canada Highway should also help keep tourists in the area as they drive past.

Talyn Martin of 8 1/2 Acres farm on Somenos Road is among the vendors at the new market, and is looking forward to having a new group of shoppers to sell to.

"I think this is a great opportunity for more people to access local food," she said. "We are trying to provide more venues and access so folks can shop and eat local. It is wonderful to see money going back in to the community and farmers being able to make a living bringing healthy food to the public."

Martin’s farm has been selling at the Duncan Farmers Market for four years, and the chance to add even more potential customers is exciting for 8 1/2 Acres. They plan to have a wide range of products available, including greens, rhubarb, strawberries, garlic scapes, potatoes, asparagus, tomato starts, herbs, green onions, and more as the season progresses.

"We are lucky to be part of such an amazing and supportive community and look forward to connecting with even more people," Martin said.

The Happy Goat farm in Glenora has been operating for five years, and owners Cory Spencer and Kirsten Thorainson started making cheese last year. Like Makaria and 8 1/2 Acres, they also sell at the Duncan Farmers Market, as well as in Cedar and at two markets in Victoria.

It will be nice, Spencer said, to have another market close to home and in the evening.

"It works out well for folks who can’t make it out Saturday, and after work sometimes works better with some people," he said. Spencer is also excited about working with McLeod and her husband and farming partner, Brock.

"Heather and Brock are really enthusiastic," he said. "We’re certainly hoping it’s a success. I guess we’ll find out."

The Happy Goat plans to have four or five varieties of cheese available at the CFM.

Other vendors the CFM has lined up include Apatate Poutinerie, Bite Me Cookie Company, Boots n Roots Permaculture Farm, Euphoric Juicery, Garland’s Smokehouse Kitchen, Good Bite, hOMe Grown Living Foods, IXIM, Lockwood Farms, Mrs. Jones Jams, Nani’s Secret, Raincoast Aquaponics, Romney Farm, That’s Amore Popcorn, Utopia Bakery Cafe and Zed Squared Food Co. More vendors will be added to that list.

For more information about the market, visit www.cowichanfarmersmarket. ca Or better yet, stop by next Wednesday.

"It will be the most pleasant grocery-shopping experience they’ve ever had," McLeod said.