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by Mary Lage
It was a grand adventure. The best of times. A crazy idea. A proud part of our Unitarian history. We started Vancouver’s first all-organic farmers’ market on the UCV parking lot.
To paraphrase Joni Mitchell:
They paved paradise … so we put up an all‑organic farmers’ market
Don’t miss this short documentary film by Jen Rashleigh and Rob Dainow on Opening Day at the Oak Street Farmers’ Market.
Tomato Meter 91% 4 stars rating
It Was a Grand and Crazy Idea
Back in 2011 a group of intrepid UCV members came up with an idea: Why not start an all-organic farmers’ market in our parking lot? What’s not to like? Under the direction of our sustainable food guru, Grant Watson, we began to make plans for the Oak Street Farmers’ Market.
We bravely climbed a steep learning curve of city permits, farm visits, grant applications, and logo choosing, among a panoply of other tasks. One of our most debated tasks was deciding whether to put the apostrophe before or after the ‘s’ in farmers market. We had our grand opening in June with music, city officials, inspirational speakers, and a ribbon cutting ceremony – and we were off!
We spent the next five years creating a strong community built around delicious organic food, great music, artisan stalls, stone soup making with donations from all our farmers, and even a massage chair.
Highlights included being the first market to feature wine and spirits, zucchini races, cooking demos and even a film series on ethical eating. We were proud to nurture first time farmers’ market vendors and musicians, and we welcomed volunteers from the deaf community.
Along with physical and financial backing from the church, UCV volunteers provided a considerable amount of sweat equity. Challenges included the weekly erecting of a huge and heavy piece of equipment that came to be known as the “Frankentent”, dragging multitudes of boxes out of the church’s narrow crawlspace, and keeping the electricity flowing to the parking lot by means of extension cords, covers, and ingenuity.
Navigating the challenges of starting and running the first all-organic farmers’ market in Vancouver proved difficult. Midway through operations, the city decided to enforce its sign bylaw not allowing us to put up signs in the neighbourhood. As well, several other farmers’ markets opened soon after ours in the area.
In spite of having incredibly dedicated members on the Oak Street Farmers’ Market board, after 5 years of operation, we had to close due to our continued financial instability. Our grand adventure came to an end but the memories and the community continue on.