B.C. farmers’ market group educates shoppers on ag issues

A week designated to celebrate food and farming in British Columbia is designed to focus farmers’ market shoppers on agricultural issues.

The B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets held its third farmers appreciation week Sept. 8-15, and 34 of the province’s 103 registered markets were scheduled to host events during the week.

“We want to really raise awareness about agriculture because when people do shop at farmers’ markets, they may not be aware of the issues around agriculture,” said Elizabeth Quinn, the association’s executive director.

“They’re there really for the taste and the flavour and the experience.”

The focus this year was on the need to encourage young people to farm. The average age of farm operators in B.C. is 55, and 48 percent of farmers in Canada are 55 and older.

Quinn said the number of farmers’ markets is growing, but some cannot find enough farmers to supply them.

Association president Jon Bell, a farmers’ market vendor in Sechelt, B.C., said mentoring will be needed to get more young people involved.

“We’ve got a lot of kids out there that are feeling really enthused about farming, but they don’t know where to start. They don’t know how. They don’t have the capital. Those are the ones we need to help by working with them, mentoring them and giving them a hand.”

Farmland is expensive, but leasing can be an option to get started. Quinn said growing for farmers’ markets can help beginners gauge their aptitude and interest in farming.

A trend toward more winter markets might also help extend profits for vendors and improve availability of local products for consumers.

Quinn said more than a dozen markets in the province run throughout the winter.

A frequent criticism is that food is more expensive, though information about price tends to be anecdotal.

The association’s manager visited 21 communities this summer and noted prices for conventionally grown products at farmers’ markets and at grocery stores in each community. He has collated data from eight of those communities and found prices to be the same or lower at farmers’ markets, Quinn said.

Bell visits grocery stores in his area before setting prices for his produce at farmers’ markets. Others likely do the same, he said, which would account for price similarity.

For more information, visit www.bcfarmersmarket.org.

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