Although a thriving success today, the concept for the original Vernon Farmers Market seemed, at times, to have been sewn on barren ground. But, thanks the dedication of its founders, the seeds eventually took root and an ever increasing yield of benefits has since been bestowed upon the community.
According to historical notes and photographs early pioneer vendors and crafters had made sporadic appearances at various locations throughout the North Okanagan for many years. However, in late 1979, the founders of the current market envisaged an “established central location” and a “regular weekly schedule” of consumer driven market activity. One of the rallying points appears to have been a local open-line radio program..during which most callers expressed great enthusiasm for a civic market concept. Many offered to help and more organizational meetings ensued with noteworthy early participants including the late Doris Fergusson, Kate McQueen, Patrick Connell and Malcolm Martin ... to mention only few.
“Location” was the number one priority.
And, because the group envisaged use of public downtown land, a series of meetings followed with the City of Vernon. Not everyone was fully supportive and potential pitfalls arose as government and civic agencies such as Interior Health, Fruit Marketing Board, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants and individual retailers stepped forward to voice pro and con opinions. Liability insurance became an issue, as did the question of who would ultimately be held responsible for happenings at the market. As Doris Fergusson wrote in her “Accounts
of The Market Beginnings” …”One good thing came from the lengthy struggle! We received lots of publicity!”
Eventually city council approved use of the Rec Centre Parking Lot for a trial period of one year and the first actual market, with a handful of farmers and crafters, took place on May 8, 1980. A letter of congratulations came from then MLA Pat Jordan, and things were really happening.
By this time the organizers and the city realized that many of their developing problems could be better dealt with if the market was a legal entity so the market group applied to become a non-profit society and were incorporated on June 10, 1980. Of course the market now has official bylaws, rules and regulations, an annually elected board of directors and issues such as liability insurance, heath compliance and other concerns are addressed professionally.. as they are by most of the over 100+ farmers market organizations now in existence throughout the province. Although the Rec Centre Parking lot was the market’s primary location, its vendors did, on occasion, participate in main street DVA events and entered floats in the Winter Carnival parade. In 1991, it was decided to increase the markets to two per week from the original one per week. In 1999 one of the vendors baked a giant cake in celebration of the market’s 20th Anniversary and MLA April Sanders and Mayor Wayne McGrath were on hand to wish the market well.
All Vernon Farmers Market income is derived from annual stall fees paid by the vendors. And, although regular fee increases have been needed over the years, daily operational requirements are now overseen by a professional market manager and part-time assistants. The market also considers itself a good corporate citizen offers free booth and advertising space to charitable organizations, spends its funds locally and is a member of Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
In the spring of 2002, after eighteen successful years in the same location, the Vernon Farmers Market faced another challenge. Following approval of the Performing Arts Centre the Rec Centre property was no longer available and the market was advised relocation would be necessary. Thankfully the North Okanagan Regional District rose to the occasion and the choice of the Wesbild Centre parking lot as the new location has turned into a real blessing. True, the market is not quite as close to downtown but the location does have many other advantages..not the least of which is ample space for over 100 vendors as well as parking for an average 1600+ daily shoppers. Other advantages include the market’s mid-way location between the major downtown and north end shopping districts, the ½ block proximity to the highway 97 tourist corridor, near immediate adjacency the city bus route and advertising use of the Wesbild’s readerboard sign.
However, lest the market appear overly satisfied, and in the true tradition of our growth oriented past, market directors still believe there are many civic improvements that could further the positive impact the market has on the local community and it’s many annual visitors. These include on-site potable water, washrooms, a demonstration staging area and significant improvements to the site aesthetics including trees, benches, planters and rest areas. The directors believe Vernon’s “future” market should be a true local “attraction” ..not just a parking lot and place to buy crafts and produce.
In conclusion, thanks to the many Vernon Farmers Market supporters and volunteers whose efforts over the past 30 years have made the market an on-going success! Thanks also to the thousands of shoppers whose spending at the market has directly supported our local farmers, orchardists and artisans.