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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Farmers' Market money maniacs

As the Halifax Farmers’ Market prepares to move to the waterfront, vendors are beginning to think big.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 11, 2008 at 4:00 AM

On Friday, with the ink still wet on the paperwork and just hours before governor general Michaelle Jean called an election, thus suspending any further federal spending, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency approved $2 million in funding for the ambitious Seaport Farmers' Market project on the Halifax waterfront.

"We were narrowing in on this daily, getting closer to meeting all the reporting requirements...meeting federal funding requirements, but we didn't think we were actually going to quite make it" before the election was called, says Halifax Farmers' Market manager Fred Kilcup. "There were some details that didn't get done, but we've been working at this for two years, and nobody wanted to see it not come together, because we were just a couple of days away of going through all the processes."

The ACOA funding is the last piece of government funding necessary for Seaport, which promises to be a signature building---besides being graced with windmills, a green roof and on-site composting facilities, the structure will meet stringent energy efficiency standards.

Last month the Halifax Regional Council approved $1 million for infrastructure ancillary to the building but essential for the overall project---Kilcup mentions new sidewalks and a connecting route to Point Pleasant Park, as well as opportunities for a new bus route servicing the market.

The provincial government has also dedicated $2.25 million for the building, and the Port of Halifax chipped in $1.1 million.

Additionally, 175 people put forward about $750,000 worth of their retirement funds to the building, through an investment vehicle known as a community economic development investment fund.

That leaves about $3 million necessary to meet full construction costs; Kilcup says he is meeting with loan officers and hopes to have the entire project funded and put to tender within two weeks. Construction should start by winter, he says, with a likely spring 2010 opening date.

With the project moving forward, farmers' market vendors are poised to invest millions of dollars in expanding their operations.

In anticipation of the larger Seaport space, Boulangerie Bakery has already expanded its Mahone Bay production facility, purchasing a larger walk-in refrigerator and adding a packaging room, says owner Jeannine Riant. She hopes to be present at Seaport "at least twice a week, possibly a few more days" and, with a larger stand, expects a 20 percent increase in sales.

The market's move from its present cramped Keith's Brewery location will make a world of difference, says Riant. "The second day, the more space, there'll be parking, the space to move around and feel like you're not crammed on top of everybody else---I'm convinced that more people will come."

Likewise, Peter Boudreau and Mike McGlone, owners of Mike's Fish, look to vastly increase the size of their operation. "The intention right now is a 1,200 square foot space, on the outside of the market," says McGlone. "We're looking at a seven-day-a-week operation, increasing our wholesale and, obviously, increasing our fresh sales so we have fresh seafood available seven days a week. We're also looking at a small cafe-style sit-down area with 12 seats, so we're going to do some prepared foods---chowder, fish and chips, steamed mussels. And with Peter's experience as a chef, we're putting together a bit of a catering menu as well."

With the increase in sales, McGlone expects to be able to deal directly with fishers. "We'll say, 'you go out to fish for us, we'll buy all your fish'---the entire boat.

"I'd love to have boats land down on the Halifax waterfront again. Twenty years ago they used to land right down at the Halifax ferry terminal, they'd unload boats and it was a huge tourist attraction; I'd love to see something like that happen again. I don't know that we'll be big enough to make that happen, but that's my dream."

Boudreau and McGlone expect the new market to be a large success.

"The primary producers are small business people in a very aggressive environment and they've thrived to date," says Boudreau. "Opening a shop at the Seaport Market is another challenge they face, and they'll meet it like they've met everything else."

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