Local farmers market becomes subject of study to determine key components of success

The Rimbey Farmers Market is going under the microscope and no; it’s not about some sort of nasty biological bug or crop infestation that’s hit the area.

The Rimbey Farmers Market is going under the microscope and no; it’s not about some sort of nasty biological bug or crop infestation that’s hit the area.

As part of the BC-Alberta Research Alliance on the Social Economy (BALTA), a case study on the Rimbey Farmers Market and its effects on the social and economic impact on the community is currently underway.

Eva Bogdan, a Masters student at the University of Alberta studying Environmental Sociology is on the verge of completing her study on the local farmers market in conjunction with her supervisor Dr. Mary Beckie, also of the University of Alberta.

“I had the pleasure of working with Mary on another project before – a gardening project for senior immigrants, and because I really enjoyed working with her, she gave me the opportunity of doing a case study on the Rimbey Farmers Market,” Bogdan said when asked how she became involved with the study.

The local study is a micro-version of another, much larger, research project that involves farmers markets in Vancouver as well as others across Canada.

“Both of these case studies are testing a method that’s being used in this very large research project, because myself here in Edmonton and other researchers in Vancouver are very interested in the role that local food systems or organic food systems play in the development of the social economy and how it relates to rural development,” Dr. Beckie said. “We think that farmers markets play a key role in local food systems, so that would be the impetus.”

Dr. Beckie said the study is completing the third year of a five-year look at farmers markets and their effects on the social and environmental aspects of the particular community.

“As you know, farmers markets are just that – they are markets, and they are framed by the economic exchange that goes on between local producers and consumers, but the interesting thing about farmers markets is that they are also very important social venues and as Gayle Rondeel and other market managers are thinking and doing, they’re also evolving in more ecological and environmental ways as well, so those dimensions are what we’re particularly interested in,” Dr. Beckie said.

In examining the data they’ve researched to date, Bogdan said three very distinct themes are beginning to emerge that lend credence to the theory that farmers markets are much more than simply the buying and selling of commodities.

“There are some emerging themes that have come out. One of the biggest is the importance of leadership in terms of the farmers markets, so with Gayle becoming the manager as of last year – she got a very upbeat personality, she’s very energetic and she has a vision to make the farmers market something that Rimbey can be proud of,” Bogdan said. “She’s very committed and she also helps vendors gain marketing and customer skills, so she is one of the key components as to why the Rimbey Farmers Market has become so successful.”

Secondly, Bogdan said gaining community support from both the public and the business sector is another key element in the success of markets such as Rimbey’s.

”Gayle had mentioned that community businesses have been extremely supportive and overall, this shows strong community pride and spirit and a sense of volunteerism as well that has really helped out with the farmers market.”

Thirdly, Bogdan sited the strong concerns shown locally for environmental issues and pointed to local Green Party member Joe Anglin as an example of how a community that gains a sense of the environment would be far more likely to support locally grown products.

“Another component that is very important is some of the strong environmental interests and concerns from local community members,” Bogdan said. “Gayle herself, is trying to incorporate more environmental aspects to the market such as rewarding people for reducing plastic bag usage, reusing mugs – those are very important.

“If I remember correctly, there was a gentleman there who was running for the Green Party and was in opposition to the power lines that were being built, so those examples show, from the research side, that there’s strong environmental concerns in the community which would be important for supporting a local farmers market because if there is environmental awareness, then people are more likely to know about the importance of locally produced and seasonally produced foods and support their local producers,” she added.

Once completed, Dr. Beckie said the study may be published and distributed to other areas as an example of how strong leadership, community involvement and a strong sense of the environment, can greatly assist the success of a local farmers market.