The journey so far at Vancouver Farmers Markets, as I leave for a break and pass on the baton, for a while

It was only a couple months after I returned from leave with my first child that I took on the Interim Executive Director position at Vancouver Farmers Markets and now I have the great pleasure of giving Bre Hamilton that opportunity while I attend to my second.

When I first started the role in February 2020, I was coming from managing markets and the board of directors asked me to ‘just keep the markets running’. Little did they know, we were about to enter a global pandemic and all of our permits would be pulled. What an honour it has been to work alongside this community, advocating on a municipal level, ground-truthing how to bring producers and neighbours together safely and actively working with BC Farmers Markets and the BCCDC to have farmers markets declared an ‘essential service’. We didn’t talk about how critical farmers markets were to combating social isolation and mental health at that time, but beyond food access and keeping farmers farming, I believe keeping markets open kept our souls intact. 

Our not-for-profit came out of the pandemic in a strong position. Because we kept running markets and employing people – it takes a team of people to run vibrant and welcoming markets and even more in a pandemic, we were able to access the federal wage subsidy. Because we were all confronted with the fragility of supply chains, neighbours and producers recognized markets as critical lifelines and support was strong. Vancouver Farmers Markets moved into 2021 with energy to refresh our vision and mission and articulate a 5-year Strategic Plan with priorities to Strengthen Markets, Empower Community, Enhance Access and Develop Organizational Capacity. I’m proud of that strategic, thoughtful work, particularly the emphasis on the importance of people, network and relationships in our vision and mission, and am excited about how we are building from resilience.  

Last year was another one for adapting – our organization experienced significant staff turnover, came back from a month-long Instagram account hack and responded to location disruption curveballs at Riley Park (pun intended!) and False Creek. The market disruptions we anticipated in 2020 will manifest in one-day, partial season, and complete market moves over the next few years, stretching the creativity of our team and the patience and flexibility of our vendor and shopper community. Advocating for consistent access to accessible market spaces is ongoing work. 

We also had some exciting wins. After ten years of planning, the Trout Lake Farmers Market is an uncontested fixture in the John Hendry Master Plan and in a few short months, we leveraged the Farmers Market Infrastructure grant to fabricate and install permanent directional signage for all our markets. We’re excited that vendor sales and shopper visits have finally surpassed pre-pandemic levels and last year was the best year ever for Fresh to Families and nutrition coupons, offering much needed support during a season of unprecedented inflation and food insecurity. 

The season ahead will have its share of challenges, both anticipated and unforeseen, but I am excited for Bre Hamilton to take on interim leadership. Bre is a long-time shopper, strategic-thinker and communicator who will bring a fresh perspective to our deep organizational work. I know she will support and be supported by our fantastic staff and board team, over 250 incredible vendors, and thousands of shoppers who make market magic happen every week. I can’t wait to see how she helps our team improve internal processes and articulates the importance of farmers markets, bringing our story, impact and needs to the people who need to hear it most.

I look forward to meandering through markets as a shopper this season and wish you all joy and abundance!

Laura Smit