Market research

Editorial by Kyle Shaw

illustration Graham Pilsworth

It’s hard to say enough good things about the farmers’ market expansion. Even premier Rodney MacDonald isn’t up to the task and he’s a professional hot-air blower who got to announce provincial cash in support of the project. “I am proud to commit $2.25 million for a state-of-the-art facility,” RodMac said last Thursday, the summer solstice. “The Seaport Farmers’ Market will be one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in North America.” Which just doesn’t go far enough. The new market is destined to be a world leader in many respects, sure to attract admirers from far and wide to learn more about how we roll.

The Seaport building was designed by Keith Tufts, of Halifax architecture firm Lydon Lynch, to have a tiny ecological footprint. Think electricity-producing wind turbines, a water reclamation system, “solar lanterns” to take advantage of natural light, geothermal heating, etc. (It should use just 15 percent of the energy used by a comparable traditional building.) The premier and energy minister Bill Dooks, who also spoke Thursday at the unveiling, justifiably made much of the green factor. “In one place, under one roof, we could show Nova Scotians and Canadians and foreign visitors what the future of energy might look like,” said Dooks. “A future where homes and businesses can sustain themselves.”

True. But there’s more to Halifax’s farmers’ market than the building it’s in. From the New York Stock Exchange to Crack Corner, a thriving market comes down to the interaction between buyer and seller, and at our farmers’ market the interaction is special. The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, an offshoot of the famed Slow Food movement, commissioned a team of students to study more than 25 markets in Europe and North America. One of those students—David Szanto, who’s doing a Master in Food Culture at the Italian University of Gastronomic Sciences—visited Halifax last August and was seriously impressed. He wrote a letter to market manager Fred Kilcup that deserves extensive quoting.

“What became clear to me over the course of my own part of the research—in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ireland, England and Wales—is that the Halifax Farmers’ Market is one of a very few that seem to be on the cusp of creating a whole new generation of farmers’ market,” wrote Szanto. “Not only does it provide the same spectacular visual, social, and gustatory experience that places like London’s Borough Market and La Boqueria provide, but it remains true to the values of producer selling and is clearly a deeply integrated part of the Halifax and Nova Scotia food community.

“Your ideas about markets have formed the backbone of some of the themes I’m developing about markets, including co-operation-and-competition, embeddedness in the community, creating productive dynamics between ‘private’ and ‘public,’” and relationship facilitation between all stakeholders in a market, not just consumers and producers.... Once again, my admiration for having created one of the pre-eminent farmers’ markets across two continents and a half-dozen countries.”

Obviously Szanto experienced the current Saturday market with its amazing, infuriating crush of people buying and selling, eating and socializing. The challenge for the Seaport market—as fundraising continues towards a $10 million goal and the new building opening for business a year from now—is to transport that energy to a bigger space that’s open seven days a week. There are already people who say it can’t be done, but the market has survived since 1750 by successfully meeting such opportunities for growth.

The Seaport’s pre-eminent concern for sustainability carries through from the environmental aspects to the commercial. Some farmers and producers are desperate for a chance to sell more often than Saturday, others don’t have the capacity. Kilcup and the farmers’ co-operative won’t compromise on the local focus of market goods and architect Tufts is designing the interior to accommodate both seven-day and once-a-week vendors. If the new market set out to be a farming Disneyland, selling imported strawberries to cruise-ship tourists in April, it would fail. Instead, it offers a vision of the future from top to bottom—from the green roof to the market’s reliance on food grown in Nova Scotia soil. And this future couldn’t be in better hands.

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About The Author

Kyle Shaw

Kyle is the editor of The Coast. He was a founding member of the newspaper in 1993 and was the paper’s first publisher. Kyle occasionally teaches creative nonfiction writing (think magazine-style #longreads) and copy editing at the University of King’s College School of Journalism.

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