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Seaport looks for new markets

The Farmers' Market is moving to Seaport Market, and they're asking community groups for inspiration.

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For anyone wondering how the Halifax Farmers' Market will fill up its new 42,000 square-foot space seven days and seven nights a week, the seeds of the Seaport Market are germinating in a new project sponsored by the market, called community connectors.

"Everything we do is local, personal and direct," says general manager Fred Kilcup, who recently removed himself from daily operations to focus on the future. To that end, he's hired four "connectors" to spend the next eight months reaching out to arts, environmental, cultural and health groups to see how they'd use the space.

"The market will provide opportunity and facility and coordination," but, he says, the actual use of the space "would be driven by the community." It's a big step for an organization that constantly turns vendors away from cramped Saturday markets.

Obtaining new vendors is not the project's goal. They are looking to discover sustainable links between food producers and community groups. Theresa Cole is the market's new operations manager. She believes the change in market policy is a subtle one. "Part of what we are doing is, we are trying to generate interest," Cole says. Kilcup himself calls the connectors "a self-interest program," because he wants the consulted to "become customers at the market."

One visible sign of community outreach success is the "international foods" table run by a diverse group of newcomer women in a pilot project run out of the YMCA's Centre for Immigrant programs in Fairview.

"This project lets newcomer women test the market and help them to fund their business idea," says Hui Zhu, the project leader. This is the women's fourth Saturday at the market. Their table is busy and food is moving quickly. Flora Ba from Colombia makes empanadas; Houin Sook Oh prepares Korean favourites; Naheg Hasouna makes Egyptian sweets and Song Mei sells lovely dumplings.

"[The market's] a perfect venue for new starts," says Carla Harder, a community facilitator with The WEE Society. She connected Cole and Zhu. "We're hoping that it will be a precursor for their involvement in Seaport Farmers' Market and a lot more opportunities for long-term kiosks." Zhu says she wants her program to secure a long-term kiosk at the Seaport Market.

As an introduction, the market is an important part of a larger business cycle Kilcup wants to tap into. Networking 101: If these women start restaurants, their food needs could feed new business ideas to market vendors.

"It's about exposure." Ted Hutton, of Hutton Family Farms, says. "It's about letting people know we have products. I've been doing this forever and I still have people who come here and say, 'Oh, you have Tae baek (a Korean Radish).' And I say, 'We have a lot of it.' And they look at me and say, 'Oh wow, we always get that from such and such in Montreal.'"

"How do I get it? I'd really buy that. How much would you buy? Well," Kilcup says, imagining a hypothetical conversation, "if it was of this quality or variety, the cultural community might have capacity for X amount. That's the kind of hard information you have to estimate before a farmer will learn how to grow [new products]."

That's part of what the connectors are researching, he says. It's the first time they've tried to quantify that kind of capacity.

The Market will release its Community Connectors report to the public next fall. Kilcup promises construction will begin this spring on the Seaport and the new market will open a year later.

To hear more about the women of the YCMA Immigrant Women's Enterprise initiative, visit the coast.ca/food.

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