The Clearwater Farmers Market is marking two decades of operation this year, and according to longtime vendors, is still going strong.
The market began in 1999 as a way to bring small businesses to town and has evolved from just five or six vendors to the 20 merchants who now set up shop every Saturday morning on the lawn in front of Interior Whitewater Expeditions on the Old North Thompson Highway.
“The first two years it was between the health food store and the Raft River Mini Mart, then we moved to the current area,”said Dorothy Schulte, who’s an original vendor and sits on the board of directors.
“The main reason we moved was to be on the grass and closer proximity to the bank machine. It makes a difference.”
According to Anne Baker, another longtime vendor, it was in 2001 that the organizers got more serious about the Farmers Market.
She said they approached Doug Trotter about using the lawn at Interior Whitewater Expeditions, and after getting approval, those involved made the commitment to be there every Saturday, rain or shine and regardless if anyone showed up to buy their products.
“We then joined the British Columbia Association of Farmers Markets (BCAFM) and with that comes the commitment to follow their policy,” said Baker.
The BCAFM policy states Farmers Market means a market located in BC, comprised exclusively of vendors who grow, make, bake, raise or wild harvest the products they sell, products all of which must be grown or processed in BC, 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.
Baker added, “We have our own policy that also states items may be considered for the market that are not produced or available locally if the item is first vetted through the Farmers’ Market board.”
The Clearwater Farmers Market also held a Strawberry Festival for a few years to highlight the history of growing strawberries in this area and in its first year received the prize from the BCAFM for the best festival for a market its size as well as being awarded the Community Spirit Award from the District of Clearwater in 2012.
The first few vendors back in the late ’90s sold mostly veggies and a few crafts, and Schulte said now market goers can find everything from, baking to canning to fresh meat, which made its entrance to the market about six years ago.
Another event the Farmers Market holds is Seedy Saturday where people can trade and buy seeds as well as share information on food security.
“Seedy Saturday was part of it right from the beginning and there is quite a concern because this valley does not grow enough food to support itself, so in a real crunch, we’d be hungry,” said Schulte.
“People don’t realize that; we better hold on to our old rhubarb plants because we might be happy we have them someday and because they’re heritage plants, they grow here, they’re acclimatized and not by hybrid seeds from overseas—save your seeds and grow your own stuff.”
Sharon Neufeld, who volunteers on the Seedy Saturday committee, is also a big proponent of food security and previously said the practice of seed preservation used to be inherent to cultural survival before the proliferation of grocery store chains.
She added the Farmers Market and an event like Seedy Saturday is a good fit because both encourage people to grow their own food and not be dependent on corporations.
“This is something farmers just did; we always saved our own seed, could always grow our own food and exchanged seed,” she said.
“If I ran out of something because it didn’t work, a neighbour would have the seed, so that’s security. People don’t really think about it, but (grocery stores) aren’t food security. I have my pantry full now, but for how long?”
Aside from providing small business and food security, Schulte said the market also offers a sense of community and she encourages people to stop by, even if it’s just to browse the vendors and chat with others who frequent the event.
“Everybody should come down here every Saturday morning just to walk around and talk,” she said. “We have lots of tables and we encourage people to come down and make it a social affair.”
Those looking to visit the Clearwater Farmers Market can stop by 73 Old North Thompson Highway Rd. W on Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.