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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

o-CNN: Market Day in Cochrane, Alberta

A Market Community is a Healthy Community

The Two Cowboys were fortunate to visit with Valerie McCracken, the volunteer organizer of the Cochrane Farmers' Market. Over the last two weekends we had a taste of what Cochrane's micro businesses have to offer and we loved it!

The Cochrane Market is an Alberta Approved Farmers’ Market. It comes with rules and regulations that help distinguish the market from a typical "Flea Market" or "Public Market". For example: eighty per cent of the vendors are Albertans who meet the "make it, bake it, grow it" criteria. This means you are buying from the community's producers and product makers, directly. The remaining twenty per cent of the vendors are selling products that complement the market mix, within the discretion of the organizers. 

Another key differentiator is the organization of the market. An "approved market" is sponsored by a not-for-profit community group, local Chamber of Commerce, municipality or agricultural society, or have formed their own not-for profit society under the Societies Act. Hence, the market is a collaborative effort for the benefit of all the participants. It even has a vendor meeting to include the participants in the decision making. The "approved" status plays a distinguishing role to define the character of the types of businesses that participate in the market and how the activity is organized. 

The Cochrane Environmental Action Committee sponsors and operates the Cochrane Farmers’ Market at the Cochrane Ranche Historic Site. The market runs from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each Saturday, rain or shine, from the beginning of June until the end of September. The market just celebrated its 18th birthday. They continue to grow, and each year is better than the last, with a downtown evening market added this year! 

Somehow, as Valerie mentioned in a her interview, Cochrane may have managed to get something right after eighteen years of trying to have a vibrant and healthy market. This year is the first year where the rest of the Cochrane retail and business community started to recognize, that to survive the onslaught of the national and multinational big box store invasion in small town Alberta, Cochrane has to turn to its own. The Farmers' Market was invited into the downtown core to help attract customers with products that make Cochrane unique as a destination, and inspiring as a community.

I make no mystery about the fact that I think markets are the critical, and often missing foundation of a community's character. A community with a healthy market and locally originating commerce is one that thrives in other areas too. It shows the societal health of a place when people come together to interact and trade the value they create. 

A market shrinks complicated value chains by offering direct access between producer and consumer. Markets overcome commerce imbalances in a community, which are often caused by an over representation of real estate reliant retailers stocked with out-of-town goods. Retailers offer a simple and safe tax base for local governments, and is therefore favoured over the complexities of the organizational overhead, and transient nature of market vendors. 

Yet, many successful producers and businesses started at markets. A market offers a safe place with low entry cost and low tax overhead, where government regulations and compliance costs are delayed a little longer, before it exercises its potential to kill the entrepreneurial spark of budding entrepreneurs.

Not only is the community's market a meeting place for town folk, it is the first place where budding entrepreneurs get to show their ideas, offer their products, and solicit feedback from potential customers. It is a place where you usually get something unique, delicious and practical while meeting friends and exchanging the week's news. 

With a healthy market, people have a chance to belong, a chance to contribute, and a chance to count on the support of those around them. Show me a community's market, and I will show you the health of its people.

Why then do we in Canada, mothball our markets during the long winter months? Granted, winter impacts agricultural pursuits, but that is not all you get at a vibrant market. These very important months is exactly the time when there is more opportunity for adding value to the season's harvest and inventing and making new products. 

I make the case that we need more markets (approved or not), and that these markets should be given the opportunity to operate year round in Canada. It is a community's prerogative to have its market, and you have the support of the Two Cowboys to help you make the case. We are so enthusiastic about markets that we are going to devote more time to this topic during the second half of this year when we travel to New Zealand to see how it is done in a country that thrives, thanks to its local micro producers, and its markets.

Hendrik van Wyk
Local Market Advocate

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