I’ve always loved spending time at local markets, particularly farmers markets full of fresh and local produce. The markets are always a great opportunity to observe locals in a foreign city, and when visiting a market in my own city it is nice to interact with other members of the community. They help to shape and develop a sense of community in larger cities, in addition to driving debate, neighbourly connections, and fostering a ‘shop local’ mentality that benefit the economy. Living in a big city can feel somewhat isolated and anonymous and farmers markets are one place where barriers fall away and strangers chat under the informal gathering space of a 10×10 tent.
The West End Farmers Market is one of seven markets across the city run by the Vancouver Farmers Market, a non-profit organization that encourages alternative and sustainable food systems in the city. Additionally, the market network promotes the development of new economic, social, and local relationships. The organization is definitely doing something right, as the Vancouver markets are among the top grossing farmers markets in the entire Pacific Northwest region. This is especially impressive in a region that is known to support shop local initiatives and the local, small business economy.
For me, the experience of visiting a farmers market feels like visiting a modern day public square, allowing strangers to build connections and relationships with both other visitors and the people producing and providing the food. Research shows that visitors to a farmers market have upwards of 20 conversations, whereas only one or two at a conventional store. This is probably my favourite part – this past Saturday my husband and I spent ten minutes chatting with someone from a local distillery, learning about the process of creating white whiskey and how gin differs from other alcohols. These are definitely conversations that I would be unlikely to have at a government-run liquor store, that’s for sure.
Visiting the West End Farmers Market in downtown Vancouver opens my eyes to the diversity and openness of my unknown neighbours, with many different people coming to bond over fresh, local andhomegrown food. The markets bring people with different values, interests and individual experiences together for a basic, human experience (food!) and to create a social, engaging sense of place in a frequently disconnected urban environment.
Locals like me and visitors alike benefit from the strengthened sense of community that farmers’ markets bring, particularly as many visitors seek to explore a destination through seeing it “the way a local does”. Trying local fruits and vegetables, meeting local people, and experiencing a glimpse of daily life are fast becoming desirable tourist activities.