A Market for the Whole Community

Whitehorse chef and cookbook author (and What’s Up Yukon columnist) Miche Genest has a wonderful description of the Fireweed Community Market: she calls it “community glue.”

Providing access to fresh local food is just one role the market plays. According to Genest, it is where people go to connect with friends and the greater community and bond over food.

The last chance to hang out at the market this year is on Thursday, Sept. 15. Then we’ll have to wait until next spring, which will be the 13th year of the market.

The farmers’ market serves as a weekly hub, where people gather to chat, meet farmers and other vendors, and buy local products.

The Fireweed Community Market runs Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the summer months. (The last Saturday market was Aug. 20.)

On a recent day, market goers could buy fresh basil and broccoli from Elemental Farms, chat up an MLA, buy earrings made of caribou antlers or have their kids identify the pelts on the fur board of the Yukon Conservation Society. There’s no hurry or rush here. Neighbours greet one another, friends linger over a plate of hot Indian food or grab a bag of kettle corn and stroll the market grounds.

Jan Stick, MLA for Riverdale North, says she loves coming to the market. “There are so many friends and constituents here. It’s a fun way to work with people.”

The Yukon NDP set up its own tent at the market four years ago, where people can raise pressing issues with an MLA or spend time catching up.

The market also lets farmers educate the public, creating a connection between consumers and their food. Barbara Drury of Circle D Ranch sells organic tomatoes and meats. At her stand, Drury describes the painstaking care that goes into growing her tomatoes. Circle D Ranch is located in the Ibex Valley, which gets colder than Whitehorse. To ward away frost in the month of May, she puts on a fire in the fields at 10 p.m. every night. At 2 a.m. she wakes up to re-stoke the fire. Then at 6 am, she goes to the greenhouse to check on the temperature and if necessary, stoke the fire.

One loyal customer claims that Drury’s tomatoes are the reason she comes to the market.

The scene is a far cry from the early 2000s, when the market was a group of vendors running out of Takhini Gas Station.

Darren Holcombe, a board member of the Fireweed Market Society, remembers those days: there were no buildings or shelter to protect the vendors from strong winds. It now has up to 55 vendors, comprised of farmers, artisans and information booths. The emphasis is on providing local fare.

“It is not a farmer’s market, it is a community market,” insists Holcombe.

The market has served as a starting point for a number of vendors who have then gone on to sell their products in local businesses.

“Blackbird Bakery started off as a wagon at Fireweed,” Holcombe says. Now Blackbird Bakery is a destination bakery at Waterfront Station for foodies in town.

He is particularly proud of Simone Rudge, one of the original market society board members, who has joined forces with Robert Ryan to establish Farmer Robert’s, a grocery store that sells Yukon-grown produce, supplemented with food sourced from British Columbia, then the United States and Mexico as our own growing season wanes.

Rudge, who has stepped down from the board, expands on the market’s local philosophy by striving to support local producers who have products to sell year-round.

Holcombe says there are no plans to change the Fireweed Community Market in the near future, but simply keep what works. Holcombe likes that people can buy things at the market that they didn’t expect to see or find.

“I’m happy when I see customers leaving the market with a carrot top sticking out of their bag.”

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