Farmers Market

Seaport market celebrates past, pins hopes on future

The Halifax Seaport Farmers Market is celebrating its 265th birthday with festivities and fun, but it would like more weekday love

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Behind the Seaport scenes   Sindi Skenderi

Troy Atkinson’s soaps are local, organic and pesticide-free — and right at home with a host of similar foods and craft goods at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market.

The oldest ongoing farmers market in North America, the market is celebrating 265 years of thriving in fruitful times and prevailing during more sluggish years.

The market is a success on weekends — but a lesser one during the rest of the week— three years after its original co-operative faltered under its credit burden and sought refuge with the Halifax Port Authority. A mere two years previously market vendors had moved from their old location at the former Alexander Keith’s Brewery to a shiny-new — but pricey —  environmentally friendly port-side building.

Atkinson, a merchant in the market for eight years with his Natural Elementals soap line, believes the market isn’t sustainable when it’s open weekdays because vendors and farmers aren’t able to come every day.

“A lot of the farmers that come here and make up the market are small. They run their farm, they take a day off to run in here, get up at three in the morning to come to the market, then they go home and take care of the animals when they’re done. You just can’t do that every day.”

Troy Atkinson, Nature Elementals Soap
Troy Atkinson, Nature Elementals Soap   Sindi Skenderi

Atkinson believes that it’s a difficult opportunity to capitalize on. If the customers are there, the vendors aren’t, but if the vendors stay every day of the week, there aren’t enough customers. Foot traffic in the market is irregular during the week, making profit hard to come by.

Sara Fillmore, a Halifax-born food lover who’s been coming to the market since she was a little girl, agrees.

“During the week there aren’t many vendors, so if I’m able to rely on it being like this every day, it becomes a much more viable option,” she said.

She and her friend wait in line to get a cut of meat from Getaway Farm, a butcher shop stationed along the side of the market. She says they are frequent Saturday visitors – the market’s busiest and most bustling day – because they feel like they’re part of the community.

“People build relationships week after week,” she said.

This regular pattern of consumer behavior is proving to be a stubborn obstacle to growth at the market. Fillmore says people are “kinda creatures of habit. They think of this as a Saturday thing.”

Darren Poirier, who has been a vendor since before the Seaport market became an offshoot of the original Historic Farmers’ Market in 2010, believes better advertising might help more people visit the spot on weekdays.

Poirier, the chef and owner of Wraps So D, a breakfast wraps place that is open seven days a week, runs back and forth serving customers. As someone who’s open every day of the week, Poirier needs to make the most of the Saturday rush.

“It’s very, very poorly advertised,” he says. “The more and more I talk to Haligonians, the more and more people have no idea we’re even open on Saturday. And that’s a big problem being a business owner here.”

“Absolutely we have to be financially sustainable and support ourselves financially,” says Julie Chaisson, the Seaport market’s executive director, but she adds that her efforts to develop the business, partner with universities and add new suppliers will bring more people into the market, and ultimately help the vendors.

Darren Poirier, Wraps So D Chef
Darren Poirier, Chef of Wraps So D   Sindi Skenderi

Chaisson believes that, “anytime you grow a business it takes time to incubate it, as you see with several larger markets around the world.”

She says that new additions to the market, such as opening up corridors for easier traffic, getting more seating and making some produce and products available during the week, will help extend market traffic to weekdays.

Mary Anne LaPierre, owner of Hillcrest Farms, who has been selling fresh produce and eggs at the farmers market since the early ’60s, with her father before her selling since the 1890s, says the market is thriving more than it has been in a while.

Mary Ann LaPierre wearing a fabulous t-shirt!
Mary Anne LaPierre wearing a fabulous t-shirt!   Sindi Skenderi

She says the 265th anniversary celebration is a good way of reminding people of farming and the local produce knowledge that comes with it.

“The animals are here for the petting zoo – there’s a lot of children that don’t see the animals and don’t understand the hands-on aspect that’s so important,” she said.

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