From swiss chard to arctic charr, from jelly to jewelry – all this and more is on offer at the Fireweed Community Market at Shipyards Park.
The market, which runs from 3-8 pm every Thursday from mid-May to mid-September, first set up shop in its present location in 2005.
“In the late ’90s, I visited some farmers’ markets in Alberta, especially the one at Millarville, south of Calgary,” explains Simone Rudge, one of the founders of the Fireweed market and its predecessor on the Takhini Gas property (commonly known as Gruberville) on the Mayo Road.
“I really liked the atmosphere that was there, the community spirit that there seemed to be. It was really a nice community event.”
It was after she and her husband Tom returned from a “slow food” event in Italy that the idea of moving the market downtown and expanding its scope to include arts, crafts and other offerings began to take shape.
“We had an inaugural meeting at Bean North Coffee Roasters and came up with the Fireweed Community Market,” Tom says. “We came down here and it’s been bigger and better every year.”
For the first year, the Saturday market at Takhini Gas continued, selling only farm products.
“But we found that even the people who lived out there actually preferred to come downtown,” Simone says.
“It was just more convenient; they could stop in on their way home from work.”
While the Thursday event supplanted the Yukon Agricultural Association’s annual fall harvest fair, it also gave rise to a 12-day arts and crafts fair at Christmas-time.
The market’s development has virtually paralleled that of Shipyards Park itself. Until last year, the vendors’ tents were pitched in the parking lot area while the park’s landscaping was being finished.
New trees and buildings in the area have helped reduce the impact of winds that occasionally caused the odd tent to blow down in the early years, Simone says.
“The wind issue has been much improved here in the park, as opposed to the parking lot.”
Besides, the parking lot is now routinely full of vehicles, as the market’s popularity has grown.
Tom considers the market a “stepping-stone” for both consumers and producers.
“Consumers can come out and look at what’s available, what can be produced here. They can shop around and make contacts with people and form a commitment to buy local; to get some chickens, maybe get some farm-gate pork or beef,” he says.
“Producers can come and see what the market is. It’s an entry-level kind of thing, where they can come out and see how much would sell, and go from there. It’s a wonderful way to do it.”
Some vendors, such as Urban Cakes, have even gone from having a weekly stall at the Shipyards venue to opening their own shops downtown, Simone adds.
Besides providing an outlet for local food producers, artisans, non-profit organizations and food-to-go sellers, the Fireweed Community Market Society also does some active marketing of its own.
That started the first year, when membership in the society included a colourful fabric market bag with the society’s logo silk-screened on the front.
“We got a crew together and we sewed all those bags, we didn’t just buy ones from China,” Simone says.
“It was a big community effort. We actually rented the community fire hall in Hootalinqua, and we had assembly lines of people cutting fabric and sewing fabric.”
The merchandising effort now includes aprons, t-shirts, sweatshirts, toques, ball caps – and now cookbooks. The first one, Celebrate Yukon Food: Seasonal Recipes, has just gone into its fourth 1,000-copy printing.
“It’s been a very popular seller. The agriculture branch and the city buy them by the box to give out to visiting dignitaries,” Simone says. Even the chef at Ottawa’s parliamentary restaurant has a copy, Tom boasts.
A second cookbook is due out any day now. Called Celebrate Yukon: Keeping the Harvest, it covers a range of food-preservation techniques.
Add in the variety of workshops it sponsors – including a five-day course in butchering basics next month – and the Fireweed Community Market Society is a busy organization.
And come rain, shine or wind, it has yet to cancel a single Thursday market day.