I’ve been taking some time away from blogging to work on some other projects, but the 20th anniversary of the Vancouver Farmers’ Markets deserves some celebration. It is hard to imagine how much has changed in Vancouver’s food scene since 1994. At the time there was no mechanism for direct sales in Vancouver, and so the small band of farmers, crafters, and community members who set up in the parking lot of the Croatian Cultural Centre were technically breaking the law. The idea of local food was still radical, and the idea of using parking lots for anything other than cars seemed a little crazy. I imagine that those first steps into a market culture felt anything but certain.
Oh how much has changed. VFM is a multi-million dollar non-profit operating a growing set of bustling markets that operate on nearly every day of the week. We have a winter market, a holiday market, and highlight the best local foods of the region. The market has helped feed a culinary rennaisance in Vancouver. Kale and arugula and rare cultivars of just about every fruit and vegetable are now common, but twenty years ago Vancouverites had to make do with a shockingly poor selection of farm goods on offer at the big grocers. Food trucks prowl our streets, giving us an alternative to fast food. The markets have helped create social spaces in our notoriously insular city, drawing people out to mingle and picnic. The markets have encouraged the restaurant scene, which has grown exponentially over the last decades, driven by a more adventurous public and cutting edge chefs.
Ultimately, what the market gave us was choice. VFM didn’t single-handedly reform Vancouver’s food scene, but it was an important piece of the puzzle in a general resistance to the boring, limited diet offered by the food system of the late 20th century. Vancouver’s markets rank as some of the very best in the world, largely due to their dedication to the pillars of quality and locality. A hub of innovation, the markets continue to evolve; the introduction of craft alcohol sales promises to highlight the exciting and growing worlds of brewing, winemaking, and distilling in our region. New foods continue to debut at the market, and we are reaping the rewards of a growing urban farm population alongside of a new generation of conventional producers. 20 years in, the sky is really the limit. So happy anniversary, VFM. Here’s to the next 20 years.