The Farmers Market: Cornerstone of Pender Island

Published On: October 8, 2021Tags: , , , , ,

Story and photos by Hans Tammemagi

This Saturday morning, like most Saturdays, the Pender Island Farmers Market beckons me. Arriving early, I find about 50 vendors putting the finishing touches on their booths. Lineups have formed, some having begun even before the bell was rung.

A great thing about a small island is that we locals know each other. Thus, I am friends with most of the vendors. As I wander, Dean shows me the fancy wooden boxes he has crafted. It amazes me that he can interlock the different pieces of wood so intricately. At the Twin Island Cidery table, Matt gives me a taste of perry, a cider made from pears. It’s fresh and cool. At Debbie Katz’ booth, Because I Felt Like It, I’m greeted by colourful scarves, hats, tea cozies and creative objects like orcas, flowers and trolls, all made of felt.

Mathilda works the Raven Rock Farm booth, one of the most popular, consisting of two laden tables, crammed with different varieties of lettuce, all kinds of peppers, seasonal fruits plums, apples and pears, kales, rainbow chard, zucchinis, some almost two feet in length, and plants of herbs like basil, cilantro and parsley. All of their produce and plants are organic and grown with love. The long lineup quickly decimates the piles of produce.

Booths selling flowers are like rainbows of colour featuring fresh plants of the season. With autumn here, oranges, rusts, yellows and deep greens blaze forth. Making jewellery is popular on Pender and numerous tables display bracelets, rings, medallions, ear rings and necklaces ingeniously assembled from natural stones, silver, jade and more. Milada from Renaissance Gallery proudly shows me one of her famous apple pendants, a green glass apple on a gold chain, which she has sold around the world.

The Gulf Islands are renowned for authors and several tables feature high stacks of books with local authors standing behind them, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to describe their tomes to you. The visual arts are well represented with booths laden with pottery, paintings and photography.

The golden rule is that all items on sale must be made or grown by Penderites. And since the Gulf Islands have attracted a group of independent-minded people, their crafts are similarly unique and unusual. Whether rain or shine, the Market goes on.

And no person need go hungry on this bountiful island. Numerous booths abound with jams, smoked cheese, sauces, pastas and preserves. As lunch time approaches, food booths develop long snaking line ups. I see people munching cookies, pastries, croissants, blueberries, fruits and various hot and cold sandwiches. Pierre, one of the best chefs on the island, tempts me at the Pierre’s Fine Foods booth with tortieres, chicken and meat pies, soups, all rich with spices. Numerous booths offer breads, pastries and cookies.

A staple at the market is Tom & Jerry’s food truck, offering incredible smoked meat including pulled pork, their own sausages, beef and chicken. I enjoy just looking at this funky bright red truck that has many unique features such as a closet door forming part of itd back end. And the signs advertising their wares are roughly hand-lettered. The food truck is accompanied by Martha, whose tables are laden with delicious pies, jams, jellies, chutneys and preserves.

I amble to the veranda of the coffee shop at corner of the Community Hall, where I sip caffeine while watching the happy throngs and listening to music, for a guitarist or keyboard specialist is almost always playing here. In addition to the coffee shop musician(s), buskers often set up among the booths. Today, two young girls are playing violins with an open case on the ground to gather coins. Above them, the sun sparkles in an azure sky. I often come to the market, not to shop, but just to be part of this joyful ambience.

During summer months the market is crowded with locals, many coming early to ensure getting fresh produce and baked goods. And the throngs swell shortly after ferries arrive from Victoria and Vancouver. The atmosphere is enlivened by numerous wagging tails, for dogs are welcome (as long as they’re on a leash). Its delightful how many kinds and sizes arrive and to see them happily inspecting each other. There are even lap dogs being carried around. A white bichon licks my hand while its owner chats amiably.

The Pender Saturday market began in 1978 to help Farmers’ Institute members with marketing of farm products and was originally held at the Driftwood Centre. Expanding, it moved to the Community Hall. Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, the volunteer market manager at that time, said, “From the beginning it was about “made, baked, grown” on Pender Island. That philosophy has remained.

A post-and-beam, two-storey community hall, opened in 2000 and is Pender Island’s heart and soul. It hosts not only the Saturday Farmers Market but also the annual Fall Fair, concerts, art exhibitions, seminars; dances; weddings; yoga, summer camp for youngsters, meetings of island organizations, a weekly social with soup and music and much more. Many come to view the three imposing First Nations welcome poles at the front of the hall. They consist of female bears carved by island women under the direction of an indigenous master carver.

There is much behind-the-scenes work for a successful farmers market, I learn. To store the tables, tents and fall fair equipment, a barn was built behind the Hall. A paid coordinator takes bookings, selects vendor locations and organizes the putting up and taking down of tents and tables. And there is signage and advertising to organize.

I stroll to Ewa’s European Cakes booth. The choice is difficult for her pastries are almost sensuous in their richness, but finally I select a meringue smothered in cream and fresh blackberries. Yumm! Another great Saturday on the Gulf Islands.

If You Go

9:30 am to 1 pm Saturdays from Easter to Thanksgiving at the Community Hall, 4418 Bedwell Harbour Road. Also Saturdays the rest of the year, inside the Community Hall.