Monday, June 11, 2012

Moss Street Market

Mid day and the market is almost empty
I know I am going to get flames for this post since I am about to attack a Victoria institution.

In my opinion Moss Street Market is a failure.  I was there for the first in a number of years on June 2nd.   I was there at 11 am till noon and the place was not very full.

11 am June 2nd - the market has vrey few people there
I have some experience in farmer's markets.  As a consultant I thought I should take a break from telling people what to do and show them what even a completely inexperienced person from Lillooet can achieve at a farmer's market.

In 2003 and 2004 I had a stall in the Whistler Farmer's Market    I sold my friend's produce, a bit of my own stuff and produce from the Malms.   A bad day for me was grossing less than $300.  My net income after all my expenses averaged $250 a market - I had to buy about 70% of the produce.   I had no idea what I was doing but learned over the two seasons what worked and what did not.  By the end of the second season I was averaged about $600 a week with my best week being just around $1000.

One big difference between Moss Street and Whistler is that the Whistler market was jam packed from 10 am to 2 pm.   There were on going constant crowds I was dealing with.   Between 2 and 4 it slowed down and I could check out things at the market.   Between 4 and 5 was when all the stall holders were cutting each other deals by bartering goods.   I bought a beautiful hand woven silver necklace for Catherine through barter at the market.

There is no way this is $500 worth of produce
Whistler is not a prime location for a farmer's market because the population is so transient.   There are less than 5,000 regular residents.  Still, I could sell a lot of produce - one guy I saw there sold $1500 to $3000 worth of apples each week.   My produce was also not nearly as expensive as what I see at Moss Street.  I sold a lot of certified organic produce.

Dwane is busy, but then all the food to eat vendors seem to be
When I moved to Victoria I helped out my neighbour Anne selling her tomato sauce.   She had a table at Moss Street and Sidney markets and there were some weeks she could not look after her stall so I did for her.   Sidney was busy but it is mainly people strolling in the evening.  Moss Street was not busy.   Anne managed to sell her sauce but nowhere in the volumes that I would have expected a high quality product like that should have.   My weeks were no worse than her weeks.

There are a few vendors that are busy but almost all of those are the ones selling food you can eat right away.

A see a few reasons for the market not doing well:

  • Not enough vendors of fresh fruit and veg - I can not be certain if I go that I will be able to get what I am looking for.
  • The quality of the produce is mixed - some of the stuff there is already wilted by noon.  It was better on June 2nd than it was in 2005 and 2006 when I was selling there.  I figured out how to keep the produce fresh when I brought it from Lillooet to Whistler, it is not rocket science
  • Vendors not coming with much produce to sell.   For any market gardener to make it they need to be selling $2000 to $3000 at a farmer's market.   This is what people make selling in various farmer's markets in and around Vancouver.  I knew some people from Lytton that drove to East Van and typically sold $4000 a week.  Another problem of people not coming with enough is that anyone actually wanting to buy any produce 
  • The number of people coming is not very high - you need traffic to sell stuff.   In the peak hours in Whistler I was non-stop selling with people lining up to buy from me.
  • The parking sucks for people coming from elsewhere which means it really can not grow in size.  The density of the neighbourhood is too low to support a market
  • It is not natural gathering place for people to come and hang out or shop.  Markets need to work with where the people already are.
  • I met Albert years ago when he came to Lillooet to
    collect apricots for free
  • The prices are too high - the middle man has been cut out but the prices are high.   Selling at a farmer's market commands a premium but not on the scale the vendors at Moss Street think is a reasonable price.   Only the very wealthy can afford to shop there.  In Whistler the prices were much lower for better quality produce which meant people without a lot of money shopped there.
  • The hours are too short.  The market should at least start at 9 am

At Moss Street too many of the vendors are using the market more as a loss leader to advertise their wares than actually make a living at it.   What I see at the market is whole host of enthusiastic amateurs and a handful of serious people.

You make think my criticism is harsh, but the goal of the market is to make local agriculture sustainable, it is not doing that if local growers can not sell several thousand dollars worth of produce each week.   Market gardeners in the lower mainland need to go to three markets a week and sell more than $6,000 a week for 20 weeks to have any hope of making enough to operate a farm.

President of the ICC Dwane MacIsaac with my son Stephen
who took part in the Earth to Table Program 
What can be done to fix it?   The market needs to be moved to Cook Street.  You close a couple of blocks and set up the market.  The market should also have at least 50% of the vendors being people selling produce.  No one allowed to sell something else until the produce seller numbers are high enough.   This is a policy of the Whistler Farmer's Market and the reason I managed to get in immediately and had a corner stall - they needed more produce sellers.

Offer to allow a couple of produce re-sellers to come to  the market if there are not enough farmer's with produce.

Without radical change the ideals behind the market will never come to pass.

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