Where We’ve Come From…
The Antigonish Farmer’s Market is celebrating its’ 24th year in operation this June, but it looks like we are a bit older than we think! Most people we contacted for more detailed information are of the age where they just don’t remember, until we ran into Sean Day, Development Officer for the town of Antigonish.
Sean moved here in 1993 from out West and was surprised to find that Antigonish did not have a Farmer’s Market. The following year Sean and Chei McKeough, a lady who worked for the Antigonish Main St. Program and also from away, got together and put a few tables and chairs in Chisholm Park. Beverly MacLean, Anne Purcell, Annie MacPherson, and Barb Taylor were four of the original vendors that we know of.
Beverly and Anne, who still sell at the Farmer’s Market in the Fall, were the “original knitters” and Annie, who only retired a few years ago from selling at the Market, would have sold her jams and home baked goods. Barb Taylor, Glenhill Berry Farm, sold vegetables from their farm along with jams and jellies. I asked Beverly if she had any funny stories about selling at the Market back then and she replied “Oh dear, I can’t even remember what I had for supper!” That year, the Antigonish Main Street Program was cancelled and the local ARDA stepped in and took over.
According to Sid Taylor, the Market moved indoors the following year, 1995, selling in the hallway of the Arena. Sid Taylor continues to be a vendor to this day. The following year, 1996, The Farmer’s Market moved to the Craft barn with still only a handful of vendors, but it was growing. What started as a small Farmer’s Market with just a few vendors has now grown to 50-60 vendors weekly, depending on the season.
Nancy MacLean, Shenanigans, started at the Craft barn in 1996, and Margaret Cornect of Cornect Family Farm a year later, both are still selling at the barn. The Market didn’t open until late June when locally produced produce would have been available. The Craft barn had a dirt floor and all the vendors took turns cleaning at the end of the day. Each vendor looked after their own table space and the “volunteer of the week” looked after the garbage being taken out. No bathrooms either. The only rule was that you had to make what you sold and table fees were $10 and no membership fees. We didn’t have a Market Manager; everyone just pitched in and did what needed to be done.
Our local ARDA was still always helping us, especially Veronica Gilles. She was an enormous help with the paperwork involved with getting the Farmer’s Market incorporated in 1997. Basic rules and regulations were put in place and if we didn’t know something, she was always there to turn to. The ARDA also kept our books. We, the vendors, were very good at growing things and making what we sold but when it came to official documents etc., we were as green as the vegetables sold at the Market.
After one or two years in the Craft barn, 4-H was looking to put a cement floor in their barn and it was agreed that if the Farmer’s Market would help, the Market could use the 4-H barn every Saturday morning. The Farmer’s Market gave 4-H $5,000 towards the new floor and continues to give 4-H a yearly donation for the continued use of the barn. For the next few years, Nancy MacLean and Margaret Cornect voluntarily ran the Market, with Jim Connors helping once Fran and Jim started to sell their baked goods at the Market. They too still sell at the Market but now only during the Christmas season.
It was in the 90’s that one of the vendors, a Mr. Carpenter from the Havre Boucher area, designed and made a Farmer’s Market sign which is used to this day as the Market logo. Each vegetable and other items on the sign were individually made by hand. This signs still hangs at the back of the barn, a true piece of art and well worth a closer view.
Margaret remembers that the Market did a couple of pancake breakfast as a way to raise funds. Tina Landry had made the pancake mix the night before and thought it would be safe in the trunk of her car until morning; however, in the morning, it had overflowed the buckets and the trunk of her car was a mess…. she had to redo the pancake batter.
Everyone did something and it was still all volunteer work. When Jim was President he was also the volunteer manager, setting up tables and collecting the table fees, but the ARDA continued to handle the bookkeeping and did so for many years to come.
Eventually the Market got to the point that it was too large for even three volunteers to manage. We began hiring summer students, through Government programs, from the business class at STFX. Every spring, we would need to train a new student and it was interesting. One summer student liked to party and went off to a beach party … with all the vendors dues in the glove box of her vehicle …. for the weekend. Another, Rachel, a Chinese student, couldn’t do enough for us and it all had to be done perfectly right, but Rachel couldn’t spell English very well, unknown to us. We had a few good laughs over the ads that went into the Casket during her first few weeks on the job.
As much as we enjoyed having summer students, the need to constantly supervise them also took time, so it wasn’t long after that we decided to hire a full time Manager. Our first manager, the soccer mom, kept us all on our toes and ran us like a soccer team but we eventually lost her to a full soccer team. Our next manager stayed only for a few years and eventually Veronica DeYoung was hired. Veronica has been our Manager for the past 5 years now with the exception of one and continues to manage the Market to this day. Anyone who knows Veronica knows that she lives and breathes “Buy Local” and has been an invaluable asset to our Market.
All the while our local ARDA and the Department of Agriculture were still helping us. Bronwynn MacKinnon and Kevin Bekkers helped to get our By-Laws and Vendor and Board Policy in place. Over the course of the last 20 years our Rules and Regulations have changed as the face of the Market changed, but one thing has never changed – a vendor must produce what they sell.
In 2005, we celebrated our 10th anniversary by having free hot dogs and drinks for our customers. We took turns manning the BBQ and giving out the hot dogs. Even when we decorated the float that year, we all helped out with different ideas, mostly Veronica’s, and spent a few evenings that last week in the barn decorating. Terry Boyle had lent us his flatbed from the farm to decorate. Lots of fun for sure, but lots of work too. With Annie MacPherson as Queen of the Market on the float, we took home a first prize!
Where We’re At Now…
Today, we receive approximately 170 applications from people who wish to sell at some point during the Market year, with an average of 50/60 vendors weekly. This year 14 of those vendors are vegetable producers, each coming throughout the season as their produce is ready. You can find more and more eggs at the Market now along with meat, fish, chicken and now a new pork producer. There is locally produced maple syrup, honey, vodka and lots of baked goodies to suit your fancy – from regular home made goods to German baking (made by a real German baker!)
The number of foods being cooked on site has increased greatly over the years also. Whether you buy to eat on site or take home to enjoy, you can choose from pizza made right before your eyes and baked on site in a wood fired oven, Thai cuisine, sausages on a bun, burritos, or Indian food.
No market would be complete without your local crafters and we have a very nice variety. From woolen blankets to hand made bags, wooden cutting boards, photography, paintings, jewelry and hand crocheted items for the kids ….there are lots to choose from if you are looking for that special one of a kind gift. And if you just want to pamper yourself, try some home made soap, made with real goats milk and other toiletry items available at the Market.
Where We Are Going…
Our hope is to finally have a new heated building that can be used year round, not only by the Farmer’s Market but also by other community groups, one of which would be the 4-H. The Farmer’s Market has started the process and we still have a lot to do, but hopefully with funding through ACOA and the support of our local communities, we hope to break ground in the spring of 2016. Our Market continues to grow and does so only because of you, the many customers who’ve come up to the barn weekly, skirting the many potholes that we have, to buy from us, your local producers. If you’ve never been, please drop by for a visit. We are easy to find, it’s the large green barn on the Exhibition Grounds, across from the James Street Plaza.
To show our thanks to you, our faithful customers, we will be giving away a Market bag and a $50 Market gift certificate, every Saturday for the month of June. Be sure to pick up a ballot when you make a purchase from any of our vendors. Come and help us celebrate our 20th birthday and here’s hoping for many more!
If anyone has any stories about the Farmer’s Market they might have and would like to share we would love to hear them. Stories can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or left with me at the Farmer’s Market on any Saturday morning.