Looking for few hopeful signs of spring? The return of the White Rock Farmers’ Market might just do the trick.
The market is back in uptown White Rock starting this Sunday (April 23) at Miramar Village (Johnston Road between Thrift and Russell Avenues) – providing some 91 vendors selling a wide variety of products ranging from from fresh farm produce, bakery, specialty foods and treats to clothing, jewelry and other pieces by local artisans.
“The principle is that everything sold is something you make, bake or grow,” said market manager Patti Oldfield. “We’ve kept away from vendors who are simply re-sellers.”
It’s a great place to browse, Oldfield said, or simply catch up with neighbours and friends over a coffee and a fresh-baked croissant. And for White Rock and South Surrey residents it has the advantage of being close by – walking distance for many in the uptown area.
“It’s a great family day,” added market board member Judy Prange.
“And one thing in which we’re a little bit different from other markets is that it’s dog-friendly, provided our canine friends are on a leash and well-behaved around people and children.”
The market will formally re-open for the 2023 season at 9:45 a.m. this Sunday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring White Rock Mayor Megan Knight.
The city is holding its own Volunteer Fair at the White Rock Community Centre (in Miramar Village) that day – but Oldfield said the market sees multiple events as an advantage, as they attract even more people to the area who may be likely to browse the goods on offer.
The market itself will run every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Oct. 15, and Oldfield said a few new wrinkles are being added this year to make it an even more family-friendly destination.
One is a free-of-charge drop-off for small appliances that can be recycled, something that has been provided by other farmers’ markets in the Lower Mainland, and which has been actively requested locally, particularly by seniors.
“We’re also starting a junior entrepreneurs’ stall for young people of all ages, up to 18, to showcase their creations – it might be a young guy who makes skateboards or little kids who are making cookies.”
Also making the market more attractive in an era of changing diets, she said, is the variety of vegan and gluten-free options available from vendors.
“In the past we’d only have two vendors that sold anything vegan or gluten-free, but now its the majority,” she said.
As in previous years the market also features live music from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
While there have been issues in the past about keeping the music strictly acoustic, White Rock Recreation and Culture has intervened with the Miramar Village strata council committee to negotiate the use of microphones and amplifiers for vocal performers, Oldfield said – provided they are on the lower end of the decibel range.
The market, for many years championed by its former manager, late White Rock councillor Helen Fathers, endured a dent in business during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oldfield said.
But it seems to have gone from strength to strength, even with having to assimilate shifting pandemic health rules and protocols.
“Last year in 104 operating hours, based on four-hour market days, we had approximately 85,053 visitors – an average of 3,271 per day,” she said.
“That has more than doubled the 35,273 visitors we had in 2011.”
Annual economic benefit to the White Rock and South Surrey community in terms of spin-off traffic to restaurants and other businesses was last estimated in 2012 ($1.3 million) and 2013 ($1.9 million), but Oldfield said that now – 10 years later – it’s likely to reach some $4 million.
One feature of pandemic policy that has been retained is the one-way pedestrian traffic flow pattern, she said, which has actually worked well for the market.
“It means that everyone who comes in gets to see all of the stalls. That’s solved a problem for us, because in previous years people were competing for specific positions for their stalls – but now, they all have the same visibility.”
For those dealing with food security issues, the White Rock market, part of the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets, also participates in the nutritional coupon program, backed by the provincial government, which circulates coupons to those struggling to afford groceries.
“Last year we received $52,400 in coupons – almost double the $26,907 collected in 2021,” Oldfield said.
Coupons are distributed locally by the SOURCES food bank, Oldfield said. “And we had a new partner last year, BRELLA, that specifically provides services for seniors, but we can still use another partner in the community.”
Oldfield added that the market also provides stalls, free of change, to community groups, such as Rotary clubs and the Peace Arch Hospital Auxiliary, whenever needed.
“To give back to the community is something we like to do – and it also helps our vendors sell their wares,” Prange said.