If you’re looking for fresh ideas for your vacation planning, think farmers’ markets. When local growers, farmers, creatives, and artisans come together in parks, town centers, and other places, the result is much more than just a chance to shop for the freshest local goods. It’s a cultural and social event, and a ton of fun.
Why farmers’ markets?
British Columbia is the heart of fresh produce for the entire country, so if you’d rather avoid the tourist trap and eat like a local, hit the farmers’ markets! If you travel at all you’ve already noticed how much more you’re spending on meals while you’re on the road. You can get plenty of amazing food prepared for you right there at a fraction of what you’d pay in a higher-end restaurant, and you can also stock up on foods to prepare yourself. You’ll do all of these things at a fraction of the cost of eating out in tourist spots constantly, and you’ll live like a local as you do it. It’s a one-of-a-kind way to get connected to the community and really experience each place you visit.
Cariboo Chilcotin Coast
The Quesnel Farmers’ Market has been around for almost 30 years and is the source of not only great foods but also many wonderful special events, including Artists at the Market and the Flavours of Quesnel; take advantage of its summer and winter hours. The South Cariboo Farmers’ Market offers homemade baked goods, cut flowers, farm-fresh produce, eggs, honey, meat, hot food, plants and perennials, and the work of local craftspeople including clothing, jewelry, soap, and woodworking. Although this market only runs during the summer, it offers the added bonus of live music and entertainment.
The Mission City Farmers Market has offered a charming small town outdoor ambiance for 20 years. Situated among shady trees and the soothing sounds of Lane Creek, you’ll find a variety of seasonal produce along with the work of talented local entertainers and artisans at this market all year long. The Agassiz Farm Fresh Market is a newer market which is reflected in its mission of fostering sustainability in the community as well as supporting the local community.
In the Kootenay Rockies region farmers’ markets become even more plentiful, with at least 20 markets running during the summer months. The Creston Farmers’ Market runs from early April all the way through December and provides a unique mix of growers and vendors with fresh quality organic vegetables and fruits along with delectable home-baked treats, arts and crafts, and fresh cut flowers. The Invermere Farmers’ Market is large and varied enough to take up a few closed streets in the downtown area; everything on offer at the market is either grown or handcrafted. Bonus: the market is close to the beach.
The UBC Farm Market is a fantastic stop as it is actually situated on a working farm on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm; you can take the free, guided tour of the farm at 11:00 am which I definitely recommend if you have kids. If you’re longing for a relaxing morning sipping coffee and nibbling some of the best pastries around, visit the West End Farmers Market for a stunning variety of both. Bonus: the historic Mole Hill neighbourhood and Nelson Park are nearby.
Northern British Columbia
The Bulkley Valley Farmers Market is a lively market that stays open all year by having an indoor season and an outdoor season; it is near downtown Smithers and features around 50 vendors including several beekeepers and a cheese-maker at the height of the summer season. Skeena Valley Farmers Market Terrace runs during the summer alone, primarily because it is located as far north as fruit trees can grow in BC. 70 vendors sell their wares here, and everything is homemade, homegrown, hand-crafted, or home-baked.
Sea to Sky
The Squamish Farmers’ Market has been in operation for more than 10 years, and runs all year long. Take advantage of your visit to this market by seeking out some of the interesting array of ethnic foods and superior quality fish. The Whistler Farmers’ Market offers wonderful local goods and features fun events like live cooking demos and face painting. Watch for their long weekend events which take on a street fair feel.
The Powell River Open Air Farmers’ Market has a countrified, old-fashioned feel with a modern sensibility; there you can enjoy old-school products like woodcrafts, bedding plants, soap, and home-baking while shopping for produce that is all organic, herbicide and pesticide free, GMO free, and sustainably grown. Bonus: come on Sunday when kids are invited to bring their own wares for sale. Visit Sechelt Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market for tons of juried vendors who together make up the Sunshine Coast’s largest outdoor market; look out for First Nations art items, stained glass, and photography in particular.
Vancouver/Gulf Islands aside, this region is home to the lion’s share of farmers’ markets in BC—more than two dozen, and the largest among them. Even smaller towns in the area feature multiple markets and some (like Vernon) offer farmers’ markets on more than half of the seven days of the week. For the sake of brevity, I’ll list just a few here, and you can look for more here.
The Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market is one of the largest in the province, offering a tremendous variety of organic produce, concessions, entertainment, farm products, baked goods, body products, ethnic foods, flowers, jams, meats, plants, soaps, and even festivals. The Penticton Farmers’ Market is one of the largest, oldest, and best in BC, hands down. During the summer season peak weeks you won’t believe how much is at this market, and the party atmosphere that’s here is also a welcome surprise.
The Vernon Farmers’ Market is one of the best in the region and part of the local scene’s web of offerings that make farm-to-table a reality for residents four out of seven days each week in season. This is a fun market with lots of live entertainers and a very helpful, hands-on attitude almost universally shared by all vendors.
This area has so many farmers’ markets that you couldn’t hit them all on a two-week vacation without making a major effort. Here I’ll just highlight a couple with some very unique features, but almost all of them are excellent. Gabriola Farmers’ Market is the place for the artists of Gabriola Island to show their wares to the world. Known for being an artists’ island, Gabriola’s market is the place to find amazing crafts and art objects along with the creatives who make them. The Colwood Farmers’ Market offers a classic market with an urban feel in a less common evening setting. You’ll also note the palpable feeling of commitment to the sustainable Go Local lifestyle at this market.
As you tour your way through BC, consider winding your route to accommodate farmers’ markets along the way. Whether you’re a diehard camper or just a weekend warrior tourist, a farmers’ market tour of BC can offer you a fun, delicious, and lower cost alternative for your next vacation.