Vancouver Farmers Markets’ summer celebration is part food festival, part fundraiser

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      Farmers markets are a staple around Vancouver, bringing fresh produce into the city every summer weekend (and some fall and winter ones, too). But Vancouver Farmers Market (VFM) interim director Bre Hamilton says they’re about so much more than just what’s on sale.

      “I think there’s a perception of the farmers market, like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s just food. It’s just groceries.’ But the minute you get into the farmers market, you realize it’s an experience,” she tells the Straight over the phone.

      In the spirit of summer experiences, VFM is throwing its first-ever summer bash on July 22. The free event, taking place at the City Centre Artist Lodge on Main Street and 5th Avenue, is part party and part fundraiser.

      Besides a dozen food trucks and craft beer from Main St. Brewing and Dageraad Brewing, the family-friendly event will also feature a soundtrack from DJ Skylar Love, a tarot reader, a mehndi artist, and face painters. The dozens of artist studios in the Art Motel will also be open, letting visitors tour the premises. 

      Though VFM does focus on food, Hamilton says art is another core part of keeping Vancouver interesting.

      “Without art and without local food, we are not a vibrant place,” she explains. “So it’s just a natural fit.”

      Besides soaking up some rays with good food and good beers, the celebration is also raising money for VFM’s Fresh to Families initiative through its sponsorships. 

      The fund, which began in 2015, provides low-income families, seniors, newcomers, refugees, and pregnant people with vouchers that can be spent at farmers markets without limits or stipulations. The program, which serves 18,000 families across the province, tackles food insecurity without prescribing what can or can’t be bought. People can choose to buy whatever produce aligns with their personal, dietary, or cultural needs.

      As food insecurity rises, programs like Fresh to Families are becoming ever more important. Food inflation, which typically sits at around 3.9 per cent in Canada, has skyrocketed in the last 18 months, topping 10 per cent between September 2022 and January 2023 and remaining at over 8 per cent, according to Trading Economics. Rising food cost was a huge factor in pushing up the most recent living wage calculation; meanwhile, Food Banks Canada logged the highest usage on record (1.5 million visits) last year, with no signs of slowing in 2023.

      “Food bank use is through the roof, we’re still experiencing enormous food inflation, and the people who are most impacted by food inflation and food insecurity are the most vulnerable,” Hamilton says. “You cannot get fresher, better food than food that was picked that morning and trucked into Vancouver. So that kind of freshness and health should not exclusively be for the wealthy.”

      With that said, soaring grocery store prices mean that farmers markets are approaching parity on price, while maintaining a far higher quality. Hamilton emphasizes that both customers and vendors at farmers markets are very diverse—far from the perception of the markets as being solely for white, wealthy westsiders. With food being so expensive, and farmers market prices subject to lower increases, fresh produce hits a spot of increasing affordability. 

      In addition, all money spent through the Fresh for Families fund vouchers goes directly to supporting small businesses and local farmers. 

      “It’s a really great circular economy food security program,” Hamilton says. “It’s just a win-win for so many folks.”

      Visitors to the summer celebration are welcome to donate directly to the fund if they wish, but Hamilton says the main purpose is to have a good time and enjoy local food, art, and community. 

      “This summer has been full of incredible celebrations already, and we are just excited to add to the vibrancy,” she says. “Come, eat, enjoy.”  

      VFM X City Centre Summer Celebration

      When: July 22, noon till 5pm 

      Where: City Centre Artist Lodge, 2111 Main Street 

      Admission: Free

      Instagram: @vanmarkets