Vancouver Farmers Markets puts on winter market 'boot camp'

B.C. farmers don’t get to take a weather timeout and neither do the farmers’ markets. Which is why the Vancouver Farmers Markets (VFM) organization is putting 10 new vendor hopefuls through their paces with a January Boot Camp initiative.

For the entire month of January, these aspiring businesses will learn what it takes to vend outdoors during the toughest time of the year at VFM’s two weekly winter markets, located at Nat Bailey Stadium and Hastings Park. Rain, wind, snow and ice might be rocking their booths and keeping fair-weather shoppers away, but the grow must go on.

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“Selling at farmers markets is not the easiest path for a business to take, but there’s a lot of demand for space at our markets,” said Laura Smit, VFM’s operations manager, in a press release. “This boot camp initiative is an opportunity for us to see what these new vendors can bring — great looking product, a positive attitude, and good sales skills are just some of the qualities we’ll be looking for.”

Shoppers will also have a chance to have their say, with VFM encouraging market attendees to vote for their favourite new vendor each week during the boot camp. The stakes are high. Businesses with the most votes and best all-round performance at the end of the month will be eligible to apply for summer market dates with VFM, and will also secure a coveted monthly spot at the popular Trout Lake Farmers Market. With annual vendor sales of $2,295,000, and daily attendance topping 5,400 shoppers, markets like Trout Lake present an substantial opportunity for up-and-coming producers to reach the public.

“We see ourselves as an incubator for food business in BC,” said Tara McDonald, VFM’s executive director. “Many of our vendors find wider success in retail and restaurant distribution after establishing their customer base with us. For farms and artisan producers with limited reach and distribution, our markets provide a vital chance for exposure, innovation, and test marketing.”

In fact, Earnest Ice Cream is just one of VFM’s success stories.

“Vancouver Farmers Markets were the perfect venue to launch our small batch ice cream business in 2012," said Earnest Ice Cream co-ownerErica Bernardi. "It helped us connect with customers and develop relationships while providing a launchpad to expand into a brick and mortar location.” 

Among the 10 boot camp participants are unique offerings like Bite Snacks, which produces snack foods made with cricket protein, and Koji Salt, a low sodium condiment that’s touted as the secret umami ingredient in Japanese dishes. 

The VFM Vendor Boot Camp begins Jan. 6 at Nat Bailey Winter Market and the winning vendors will be announced Jan. 31. 

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