Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Victoria too small for Granville Island type food market, consultant tells city

There was an article in the Times Colonist the other day about a report to the City of Victoria council on the viability of a Granville Island type market here in Victoria.

I think the consultant missed the mark with the reasons why a Granville Island type of market would not work here in Victoria. First off there are not enough serious producers in the region. The local farmer's markets either have people that are selling a tiny amount of produce for a very high price, or they have very few fruit and veg producers coming to the market.

The Lower Mainland has producers coming from all over the Fraser Valley and even the interior to sell in the farmer's markets around the city. I know producers that gross over $2000 at a single weekly market, some have reached $4000. When I ran a stall at the Whistler farmer's market I managed to gross $500 a week. We do not have an agricultural area nearby that with many serious producers.

What would draw me to a market is knowing there would be many different producers there selling a large variety of produce. Without knowing there will be the selection I want, I am not going to go to market to buy. A good market would have 10 to 15 produce stalls with over 1000lbs of produce for sale at each one.

Mayfair tried their farmer's market last year and it was very short on produce, but I liked the location. The market needs to be easy for me to get to.

Granville Island took quite a few years to become a success. In the right location with the enough producers, a permanent market would work in Victoria. The city should allow people to experiment with different markets

Victoria is probably a decade or two away from supporting an indoor food market like the one on Vancouver's Granville Island, says a consultant hired by the city.

"There just aren't enough people living really close by to create a lot of demand for fresh, locally grown produce right in downtown," said Jay Wollenberg of Coriolis Consulting Corp., who was asked to review local open-air markets and make suggestions for changes or improvements.

Part-time markets such as the one on Government Street and full-time outdoor markets like those in Bastion Square and the Causeway are a good fit with downtown, Wollenberg told councillors recently.

Coun. Pam Madoff said Market Square was built for vendors, but "none of the owners has ever found it to be really viable. I think you need a strong local population as well as a draw.

"Maybe the model that we've been developing with the neighbourhood markets is the way for Victoria for the moment."

The consultants concluded Bastion Square, the Inner Harbour and the Crystal Gardens area are the best candidates for any permanent, full-time outdoor market.

Increasing the number of outdoor markets downtown might spread customers too thin, the report says. However, sales could be improved at existing markets by adding more vendors of locally grown food, creating a weather-protected setting and consolidating markets.

While the city might at some point want to look at an improved venue for a downtown market, that would require extensive consultation, Wollenberg said.

"You're talking about some combination of relocation and/or consolidation of other markets into a different venue," he said. "It would also take work to figure out what was the right location and to come up with a plan that makes financial sense given that this is, in the end, a seasonal kind of venue."

Successful markets require infrastructure, especially those that sell food, he said.

"Vendors basically have to, on market day, show up with their stuff. They have to find a place to park their vehicle. They have to unload. They have to get their product where they're going to sell it. Possibly they have to move their vehicle again if they have a temporary parking location and then press repeat at the end of the day if there's any unsold product," he said.

"This works not badly if you're selling stuff that's relatively light. If you're selling stuff that's heavy like potatoes, it's a pain and Bastion Square is not particularly well set up for a large number of growers to come in with product and sell in that location."

bcleverley@tc.canwest.com

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