By Colleen Kimmett
Deb Reynolds knows the grind of the farmers’ market circuit. She used to drive from Cawston to Vancouver four times a week to hit different markets around the city. The draw? A customer base willing to pay a good price for her organic fruits and vegetables. The drawbacks? A five-hour drive each way, early mornings, late nights and too much time away from the field.
While Reynolds knows that farmers’ markets are an important outlet for people who want to buy local, she also knows they can be a pain in the ass for farmers.
She has since left the farm, but her experience gave her unique insight into how she could support farmers while meeting urban demand for local food. Reynolds has been the catalyst for a new co-operative venture called the Home Grow-In Market Collective, a place that offers the ethos of a farmers’ market with the convenience of a retail store.
Small, specialized distributor outlets like Reynolds’ likely will have to multiply if local food economies are to thrive.
Although farmers’ markets are growing in size and number across Canada — one report found they generated sales of $1.03 billion in 2009 — they aren’t an ideal alternative. Limited hours and locations prevent some shoppers from reaching them, and as Reynolds found, they are a huge time commitment for farmers themselves.
“What I’m trying to do with my growers,” says Reynolds, “is bring a market to them, rather than them having to go to the market. I want to show there is a market for their produce seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year.”
The Home Grow-In Collective Market is already the distribution centre for the Reynolds’ buyers’ co-op. The growers who contribute to the co-op, seven in total, agreed to use part of the members’ fee to pay rent on the space. At the end of this month, the market will open to the general public. Fourteen vendors in total will have space there and will share the costs of utilities and staffing. Everyone involved had to contribute to about $100,000 worth of renovations, says Reynolds.
“This way, they don’t have to be there, they can get 100 per cent of the profit while paying a fraction of the operating costs,” she says. “We’re trying to prove to the world that a community of small businesses can get together for the benefit of all of us.”
Started as neighbourhood grocer
The idea spun off from a store Reynolds opened in April, 2009, called the Home Grow-In Grocer. It’s a tiny shop on the corner of a quiet residential Vancouver street. On the day it opened, Good Friday, Reynolds had $2,100 worth of produce spread out on a couple picnic tables. She sold out in two hours.