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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Meet the new Seaport Farmers' Market

Manager Fred Kilcup gives investors a tour

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 5:55 PM

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The new Seaport Farmers’ Market is under construction on Marginal Road, one of those Halifax addresses best described by its relationship to other places: behind the train station, across from Garrison Brewery, beside the Pier 21 museum. In this way it is very much like the current Brewery Market market, where shoppers need elaborate conversations just to explain how to find certain vendors. “Oh, you don’t know where the Dutchman is? How about the place that has the apples and the fudge? What about those guys who make the omelettes, upstairs across from Ted Hutten? Great. OK. So. You’re in the omelette line, and there’s a set of stairs right behind you. Head down the steps and you’ll find her tucked into the bottom of the staircase, the woman who makes the organic dog treats. You can’t miss her.”

But in other ways the new market bears little resemblance to the old. While the Brewery market is a wonderfully cramped Saturday affair where the farmers’ cooperative rents space in a historic building, the farmers envision the Seaport as an airy seven-days-a-week venture. And they’re future-minded, constructing one of the most environmentally friendly buildings on the continent, aiming for a platinum rating under LEED enviro certification.

After years of planning and fundraising, the Seaport market is taking shape quickly. Last week, people who invested in the Farmers’ Market Investment Cooperative were invited to the construction site for a first look inside. I was among the 200+ people who accepted the invitation, gathering over drinks and nibblies at Garrison Brewery before the tour started. (For full disclosure, I should say I am an investor. For full brag, I should mention I was the very first investor.)

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Market manager Fred Kilcup and building architect Keith Tufts were each leading groups of tours. Kilcup led our group, the last of the night, and when someone asked right off the top when the market will be open, it was clear Kilcup had already been asked several times. (The answer is August.)

From the Marginal Road side, the building doesn’t look spectacular yet. The giant “solar lantern” windows aren’t in, and the wind turbines on the roof are hard to see. But there are several tall white tubes, notable less because they tie into the building’s energy conservation system somehow, and more because they glow blue and green.

Kilcup led us into the north end of the building, pointing out the original warehouse roof, about 30 feet overhead and built in 1903. Inside felt like a vestibule, with a relatively low ceiling and wooden beams that will remain exposed when the building is finished (an architectural counterpoint to all the metal and glass).

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We walked a bit deeper into the building and it suddenly opened up into a big room with no pillars between the concrete floor and the high roof. There were plenty of signs of construction, including piles of lumber, several scissor lifts, workers in hard hats and a giant blue tarp creating a wall at the far end of the space. On the other side of the tarp? Even more space, with several giant windows looking out on the harbour. The effect is more football field than market hall.

Kilcup stood on some pieces of concrete to address the group. This is where the grand staircase will go, he said, leading to a living green wall. He also encouraged us to imagine the tables of vendors that will be on the market floor, tables that will be serviced by electricity and water. A handout we received says 155 vendors have already applied for space on Saturday, and 59 for Wednesdays; the Brewery market’s capacity is 145. The new market is essentially twice as big as the old, allowing more room for vendors and shoppers both.

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At the far end of this room, another tour group was visible on a sort of second-storey balcony. Soon enough we followed in their footsteps, on the way Kilcup explaining where such functional things as the loading bay and washrooms will go. There will also be a shower, perfect for bicyclists to freshen up after a long ride to the market. Under the environmental rating system, a shower demonstrates a commitment to sustainable forms of transportation; Kilcup said that was the cheapest LEED point in the building.

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Upstairs at the south end of the building is an impressive room full of pipes, with a 10,000-gallon storage tank. Rainwater gets collected from the building and fed to the tank---it’s already working---for use in the toilets, one way the building will reduce the its consumption of city water. There is also a boardroom and Kilcup’s office, with a window placed to give a Georges Island vista that looks like a painting, but easily the best thing up here is getting access to the roof.

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Even without the demonstration farm plots and the greenery for the living roof installed, it’s amazing. The line of mini windmills is in place, the harbour view is sublime---from here the market feels like a truly wondrous place to be. The farmers have built a rooftop room to rent out for events, a side business that will doubtless be a success. “Who wouldn’t want their next wedding to be here?” Kilcup asked, and although the (currently) married members of the group didn’t know quite how to answer, we all got the idea.

Of course, the Seaport’s prime harbourside location isn’t just for blushing brides and shower-fresh shoppers. When cruise ships sail into town this is where they dock, often several boats strung along the seawall at the same time. From the market’s roof it’s clear just how close those ships are going to feel. Tourists who show up at the Brewery market almost disappear in the crowd. Here their presence will be harder to miss.

My rooftop oasis disturbed by the thought of a giant belching boat looming overhead, I turn from the harbour to get the view looking toward the city. Just past the train station the Barrington Superstore is visible; farmers’ market partisans will doubtless be happy to see that from this height, they are looking down on it. The sight makes me think of the retail mantra about the three most important things in business: “Location, location, location.”

The old Brewery market isn’t far away---650 metres according to Google Maps---but it feels a long way from here. For all its down-to-earth talk of local food, local labour, local shoppers biking down to use energy efficient rainwater toilets, at the same time the Seaport market is a display of eco-glamour on a highly visible stage. The market in the first place most of the cruise shippers will visit here, the only place many will go. Smack dab between the grocery chain and the tourists, at the strange intersection of consumption and sustainability, acting locally and showing off globally, Halifax couldn’t ask for a better ambassador.

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