When the Carman Farmers Market first started, vendors made their booths into a family business. This photo is from that first summer market held in 1989, and shows Edith Rook’s young son serving customers in the original location in the Town of Carman parking lot on Main Street South, west of the post office. (SUPPLIED PHOTO)
The Carman Farmers Market will start offering summer’s bounty of fresh, seasonal produce, baked goods and more to the community on Friday, June 15, and this year’s market opening will signify the 30th season for the organization.
The market first started in 1989, with a handful of local farmers and gardeners, a cooperative spirit and the desire to offer fresh, home-grown food to the community.
The current Carman Farmers Market president, Edith Rook, was one of those first vendors, and she and her family have been with the market for its entire lifetime.
“I have missed a market from time to time, but I’ve never missed a season,” she said.
In 1989, farmers markets were relatively new in the province. The first one in Manitoba had only started the year before. Interested local vendors in the Carman and Dufferin areas were brought together by a general interest ad.
“Locally grown was starting to become a byword,” said Rook. “There were a few gentlemen in town that saw this market in Carman as very good potential. We had some good supporters who really want to help us start it.”
The group first gathered in the Town of Carman parking lot west of the post office, on Main Street South, with vegetables, eggs, honey, baking and more. At that time, the space was covered in gravel, and slightly bigger than it is now.
“That was a good spot,” said Rook. “There was a lot of foot traffic.”
Then when the parking lot was paved, the marketers moved to Syl’s Drive-Inn and they’ve been there ever since.
Rook noted that her whole family has been involved with the market.
“It seemed like a nice way to do something with the family,” said Rook. “You could work together and make a little money. I enjoy meeting people and marketing, my husband enjoys growing stuff, so it just kind of works.”
Martin and Elizabeth DeWitt were also original vendors, and the family aspect was important to them too.
Martin, who also served on the provincial board meant to help Manitoba farmers markets get established early in the 1990s, said the main guidelines for vendors were “everybody keep their own place neat and tidy, be friendly and if there was a problem, we helped each other out.”
Plus, no one could sell anything they hadn’t produced themselves.
“It was strictly for the people, by the people,” he said.
Elizabeth said the market offered, and continues to offer, lots of benefits for the community while fulfilling a need for good, fresh produce.
“It’s a business enterprise for all the vendors there, it’s a social outing and a thing to look forward to for the people in town [and] it promotes healthy food and healthy alternatives that are seasonal,” she said. “As you go from day to day you try to work in your community when you can, and if you can help to make your community better.”
Farmers markets remain pretty unique in the business world, mainly because they put local concerns first and they offer a personal connection between vendors and customers
“The producer and the consumer actually meet, and that is rather rare today,” said Rook.
This year’s details
This year’s Carman Farmers Market will kick off on Friday, June 15 and run 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. every Friday until September 14 at the Syl’s Drive-Inn parking lot.
Rook said they expect a full slate of vendors this year, with between 7 and 12 tables at any given time. Attendance will depend at least partly on the seasonality of the produce a vendor offers, so items like corn on the cob may appear later in the season.
The group continues to invite a different community group to set up a booth each week, both to give them some more exposure and to make the market a more dynamic place to meet.
And they have brand new signs up this year - which you can look for at Syl’s Drive-Inn – ready to be weather the next few decades of farmers markets and community connections.