…from the Grande Prairie Farmers’ Market
Six years ago when the market moved to Grande Prairie and this was the dream: a building that would be a beacon to food producers from across the Peace Country and beyond, a community hub where people would gather and food serveries that would be open during the week maintaining the market presence even during the days that vendors were busy preparing. For many of the vendors who have been involved in the market, six years is a long wait, while people involved in other not-for-profits would say “Wow…that was quick!”
How does something like this happen? In the final throes of preparation, it is easy to see who it was that pounded in the last spike, but really the journey began long before that. It began with Jane Waayenberg and Tillie Pirker, the founding members of the market in Grande Prairie thirty-six years ago. Jane still sells her products and Tillie visits each week as a customer. Their dedication throughout the years has kept the market alive along with the thousands who have come and gone over the years. There is no market without the vendors, especially those who work closely with the land to grow the freshest food in the community. It is impossible to name them all but they have each played a part in making the market what it is right up to this very day.
The trip to town wasn’t easy, there were many struggles, but ultimately there was success thanks to a man who let us use his old car dealership for very cheap rent. Over the years Jim Hansen has been a customer, friend and generous landlord to the market…he even let us turn the place into a barn without blinking an eye. Now with a great lease to go along with the great look, we have a firm foundation in the downtown core. And speaking of the downtown core, we cannot neglect to mention the Downtown Association and in particular Helen Rice. They have supported us in many ways over the years from sponsoring our events, supplying us with tonnes of free advertising and even chairing one of our AGM’s. Every grant that we wrote to secure various forms of funding had a letter from Helen attached, giving us much needed support. The City of Grande Prairie has helped in many ways as well, from tax relief to closing down streets for special events to the final steps in approving building improvements, permits and upgrading our parking space.
Last February, Alberta Agriculture with the support of Elaine Stenbraaten, Cindy Cuthbert and Karen Goad gave us five thousand dollars to find a designer to help us improve the overall look of the market. It was this money that allowed us to procure, with the help of Eileen Kotowich, the Farmers’ Market Specialist from Alberta Agriculture, the top consultant in the industry with an international reputation: Mr. Greg Wilkes. After he led a visioning retreat with our board in April, Karen Goad and Elaine Stenbraaten, from Alberta Agriculture, drove us to Calgary so our board and some vendors could see the possibilities…that’s when the excitement really began. Daryl Chomik and the staff at the Calgary Farmers Market welcomed us and gave us great insight into how their market was organized. The conversations in the van on the way back showed us that the spark had been ignited. At that point, we had about 20% of the needed funds in our bank account, but we had a meeting, made a motion and voted on a plan to go ahead with the project never knowing that our next gift was going to come from Ontario!
It was a little email sent out in June of 2009 by Brent Warner, the Executive Director of Farmers Market Canada. The fantastic work that his organization did with their 2008 survey of markets from across the country not only brought the importance of markets to the forefront of people’s minds, but gave our applications for funding the “teeth” we needed to demonstrate the impact of markets on local economies. In his email he referred to a community enhancement grant that he believed would give markets access to some great funds. We had less than two weeks to apply. Luckily, we already had a plan that we were developing with the help of Greg Wilkes and Concetto Designs. It was long phone calls and meetings with people like Karen Goad from Alberta Agriculture to get the current Alberta agriculture information, Holly Sorgen from Community Futures to get an update on the current economic situation in the region, as well as Adele Bonetti to break down all the costs of the project that helped us get it in on time. And then we waited. Weeks turned into months and when we just about thought it was over, we got a call from Western Economic Diversification…they needed more information. More calls to Adele, more agonizing over details, and a final assurance that our organization was in top form and the money was ours.
The rest was a whirlwind that began in January and was completed in July under the guidance of Greg Wilkes, Adele Bonetti, Cliff Turner and many great contractors from around the Peace Country. Our general manager Ainsley Lamontagne, with the help of Gloria Davis, spent hours managing the paperwork from the grant, as well as being the key contact for everyone needing access to the building. Tim Moline of Turcon Construction kept all the contractors, designers, engineers and contractors coordinated and work moving ahead smoothly.
There are stressful moments during a project like this when it helps to have friends who will listen, offer support and remind you of your larger purpose. People like Susan Picard who knows everyone involved and is a passionate believer in local foods and producers, Susan Meyer who knows the right questions to ask and Holly Sorgen who is an expert at how boards work. Eileen Kotowich and Darlene Kavanaugh provided a provincial perspective. All of these people have been great friends in this process. And then there were the board members who put in long hours attending meetings throughout the process: Travis Lutz, David Bohme, Marilyn Melnychuk, Eldine Kjehmus, Susan King, Sheila Gorgichuk, Josh Hofer, Cornelius Thiesson, Tina Larson, Jasper Coulombe, Emily Adams, Eric DeSchipper. There are so many to give thanks to.
In 2007 a group of local artists put on a show called Power of the Land that featured images and stories about the local farmers producing food and selling it at our market. By celebrating and honouring the work that farmers do, they reminded us what a privilege it is to be stewards of the land and grow nourishing food for the people in our community. Sometimes the stresses and details of pounding in nails and completing the appropriate forms obscures the bigger picture: that we live in one the most beautiful places on the planet, abundant with the food that nourishes our bodies and souls. Let this building and the people who gather here continue to celebrate this connection to the land and bounty it offers us.