The Jasper Farmers’ Market has just passed the midpoint of 2023 summer season – its 13th year running – and things are booming.
One look at the McCready Centre crowds that emerge from all corners of town, all with sturdy baskets in hand, is proof enough of the desire and the demand for fresh produce and local goods.
“It’s a community staple. People come here rain or shine,” said Beth McLachlan, board member of the Jasper Local Food Society (JLFS), the non-profit organizing body behind the market.
Fellow board member and co-organizer Kelli Sroka said that there’s a simple principle behind the market’s success, one that also serves as a poignant example of the importance of the society’s work.
“Our non-profit focuses on providing food essentially to our community because Jasper is considered to be in a food desert, which is essentially a location that doesn’t have access to a lot of fresh and local food,” she said.
“We’re excited to hear about people gardening, but it’s just not really that possible to provide yourself with year-round local food here in Jasper. And then, of course, our grocery stores are really picked over in the summertime when it’s full tourist season.”
Tourists are undoubtedly mixed in with the crowd of Jasperites between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays in the McCready’s upper and lower parking lots (next to the Jasper United Church).
The farmers’ market, however, mainly serves to fill both Jasper’s need for food and the organization’s mandate to foster the connection between food and community.
True to its name, the Jasper Local Food Society offers other programs including the community garden and Apple Fest, a late summer event for people to harvest their apples and process them lest they go to waste. “Every morsel of food is worth saving” is practically the organization’s motto.
It also recently merged with Jasper Food Recovery, the program that collects food on its way out from grocery store shelves and offers it by donation to local residents.
“Actually, what’s really cool, some of our vendors this year have been giving some of their extra leftover food to the Food Recovery Program,” Sroka said.
“It’s just another way to funnel that food back into our community at multiple levels, which is really great.”
The farmers’ market has become increasingly popular over the years, and it has expanded accordingly.
There’s fresh B.C. produce, goods from local artists and artisans, clothing, jewelry, crafts, refurbished bicycles, meals to go courtesy of two Red Seal chefs and much more.
There are 50 vendors signed up to rotate through the approximately 30 booths that are available for each Wednesday’s market until the last one on Sept. 13, and the waiting list is long.
It’s debatable whether that figure includes the live local musicians or the yoga in the park (free or by donation during the lunch hour) or the occasional dance lessons, or even the market’s first food truck courtesy of Coco’s Café.
What isn’t debatable is the earnestness that brings all of these elements together. Any one market is a triumph of behind-the-scenes collaboration. A whole season of markets requires the sort of teamwork that can’t be expressed glibly: it’s a colossal effort.
With that, Sroka says that it can’t be done by one or two people. There is a definite need for volunteers.
“It takes a lot of people to get everything set up and running for the market days. We definitely could use some extra hands if anyone ever wants to,” she said.
“I think too what we’re seeing is because the cost of everything seems to gone up so much: rent, groceries, everything. People are working two jobs now and so they don’t have as much spare time to volunteer. Everybody’s like, ‘Well, does it pay?'”
The delicate issue of money also highlights another particular challenge that the JLFS faces. The costs of hosting the market – everything from permits and rent to insurance – are always rising.
Because of its philosophy of bringing food to the masses, it strives to prevent itself from passing on those costs to its vendors, many of whom don’t have any shelf space in Jasper’s stores.
That’s one of the reasons why the Jasper Local Food Society also has its own booth. If you forget to show up with your own basket, you can buy a cloth bag. It will help support the organization that toils like a farmer tilling a rocky acre to plant a much-needed crop.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 27, 2023