Produce is ready at Ladner Village Market
Villages can raise more than children. They can also elevate a community’s profile to whole new levels.
Just ask Bill McKnight. Together with three other Ladner merchants, the clothing-store proprietor has spent the past 15 years organizing the Ladner Village Market. (It made its crowded summer debut on June 10, the first of seven such markets held on alternate Sundays through to September.)
When reached by phone at South Coast Casuals, McKnight told the Georgia Straight that the market’s mantra when vetting potential vendors is “make it, bake it, or grow it”.
Two of those growers are Alicia and Danielle Guichon, sixth-generation family farmers whose forebears were originally invited by the town’s founding Ladner brothers to put down roots—literally—in the rich alluvial soil in 1879.
Alicia told the Straight by phone that she and her sister started selling produce at the inaugural market while they were still in elementary school. The UBC history major recalled that in the early years, she used to be able to read a book between sales. “It’s crazy how things have changed,” she said. “The summer markets have become a pretty big deal for Ladner. It put our town on the map. Now we go flat out for seven hours at a stretch, and we’ve doubled the size of our booth.”
Alicia credited the unique way in which the market is organized—stalls lining block upon block of historic streets with bordering shops and cafes—as the feature that differentiates Ladner from its market counterparts. “It’s slowly evolving on its own,” she observed. On car-free Sundays, a total of 168 stands occupy a four-block radius of the maritime village in south Delta. That makes Ladner’s market the largest such open-air facility in the Lower Mainland.
“We’re going full out,” McKnight said. “We expand as we can. Right now, we’re about as big as we want to get. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after a career in both wholesale and retail, bigger isn’t necessarily better. What’s better is to have a ‘new’ better every year.”
Unlike some of the other farmers markets, Ladner’s version features vendors from a dozen different categories besides produce, such as ceramics, jewelry, garden supplies, pets, woodwork, photography, and baked goods. “We don’t limit vendors to just those from our area either,” McKnight said, noting that exhibitors travel from as far afield as Vancouver Island, the Cariboo, and the Okanagan-Similkameen. “We jury everything, plus we pay close attention to certifying staff under the province’s FoodSafe and MarketSafe training programs. Above all else, we want everybody to be happy.”
One crop that always brings a smile to foodies’ faces is berries. “Strawberries bring people out,” Alicia said, “and this year the opening market is about a half-week shy of featuring fresh strawberries. We source ours from the McKims and Emma Lea farms on Westham Island. Depending on the weather, they aim to start picking around the 15th to the 20th.”
As for Guichon-grown crops, Alicia guessed she and her sister would probably make a “game time” decision on picking beets. “For sure, we’ll have new potatoes, carrots, and a bunch of other vegetables.”
It helps that the Guichons cultivate the largest soil-based vegetable farm in B.C. When reached by phone while assessing his fields, Alicia and Danielle’s father, Peter, spoke proudly of his daughters’ accomplishments. “The market plays a big role for them, plus, over the past three years they’ve been drawing a steady stream of customers to a daily roadside stand they also run during the summer.”
Asked to assess the impact of the LVM on Delta’s agricultural community, the patriarch was full of admiration. “If the Ladner market wasn’t there, we’d survive, but it’s all part of a bigger picture.” While potatoes are the family’s chief cash crop, the 56-year-old reeled off a list of other vegetables they plant to help mitigate against the ever-present risk of crop failure: peas, beans, carrots, sweet corn, and pumpkins.
Ladner’s small-town vibe ripples downstream to Westham Island at the mouth of the Fraser River’s South Arm. Try this: combine a trip to the village with a bike ride west along lazy River Road to get a close-up look at the fields from which the Guichons and their neighbours garner a living. Along the way, settle into a picnic table at Wellington Point Park to savour goodies picked up at the market for just such an occasion. Cross the century-old, one-lane wooden bridge that spans Canoe Channel and explore Westham Island. Fields of lavender contrast with white-blossomed potato culms, the perfect foreground to play off against a panorama of distant North Shore peaks. Pick up some berries, herbs, barley, produce—perhaps even a bottle of fruit wine—for sale at three farm-gate outlets. Welcome to the new better.
Access: Ladner is located 30 kilometres south of Vancouver. Drive Highway 99 to the south end of the George Massey Tunnel and take the first exit (#29) onto River Road or the next exit (#28) onto Highway 17 South, then turn right onto Ladner Trunk Road (48th Avenue) for the short drive into town. By taking the River Road exit, you approach Ladner on a back road rather than through the community’s newer neighbourhoods on Ladner Trunk. Details on the Ladner Village Market are posted at the Ladner Village Market website.