The History & Growth of Farmers’ Markets in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Bumping into friends both old and new, dancing to live music, filling your shopping basket with colourful local produce, and sinking your teeth into a freshly baked cinnamon bun—these are the beautiful experiences that happen at farmers’ markets in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region. These markets are built on long histories and have become beloved pillars of the community.

Two patrons speak with a vendor at a tented booth at the Qualicum Beach Farmers' Market.

Qualicum Beach Farmers' Market

The Qualicum Beach Farmers’ Market began in 1997 at the Old Train Station, and Maria Chand of Blue Heron Organic Farm was there from the very beginning. She sold potatoes there a couple times that first year, and became a full-time vendor the next, selling various produce—including a whole lot of garlic. She was one of about 20 initial vendors, and she has watched the market flourish and change over the years. There was a little pushback initially from some of the small businesses in town who were concerned about the market taking their customers as it grew. But as the market grew, so too did the societal push to support local food producers—and thus the encouragement of the community and other small businesses.

“ If we can provide small farmers a venue where they can make a decent living, they’re going to be around for a long time. ” Maria Chand

After just three years, the market had grown to a point where it needed a larger space, so the town agreed to close Fir Street on Saturday mornings to accommodate it. In 2007, it accepted its first craft and artisan members, growing its vendor number to 55. But when the street required construction, the market and the town underwent negotiations to find a permanent location, and in 2009, the market landed in its current location on Veterans Way. That same year, a trial winter market was held in the community hall, and a few years later the market became a year-round experience. Chand sold at the market right up until last year, and she credits the market with encouraging and supporting local food sustainability. “If we can provide small farmers a venue where they can make a decent living, they’re going to be around for a long time.”

Terry Smith also sold products at the market for many years, and he did so because of how much he loved the customers. In fact, it’s kind of the whole reason he was a vendor at the market for so long. For ten years, beginning at the market’s birth, Terry’s Kitchen sold jams, jellies, pickles, beets, bread rolls, brownies, date squares, cookies and more at the market. He started the business solely so he could sell at the market—he was actually already retired when he began production. “It started out of boredom,” he laughs. Then it took off, and his initial three-foot card table and umbrella grew to three eight-foot tables and two tents.

But for Smith, it was never about the money. “I was there for a good time,” he emphasizes. The friendly atmosphere, live music and customer engagement—that’s what it was all about for him. He loved getting customer feedback and taking their suggestions, which is how he ended up making so many different kinds of products. “People would ask, ‘can you make this?’ and I’d say, ‘oh sure, I’ll have that for you next week.’”

In fact, he loved being a part of the market so much that although he left the market for a few years to “retire” again, he found himself selling his products there once again for an additional three years. And Smith says, much of its recent growth and success is due to the market’s current manager, Launie Elves, who has brought in dozens of vendors and helped many of these businesses flourish to sales even beyond the market. (There are now over 100 vendors present there during the peak season.)

Piles of fresh radishes, beets and carrots on a table at a farmers' market in Parksville Qualicum Beach.

Errington Farmers' Market

The Errington Farmers’ Market has also thrived over the years, with an even longer history than the Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market. It was founded in 1972 by Geraldine Shaw, her father and her husband and sons. The family took their inspiration from the large open-air farmer’s market in Roseville, California, deciding to open a small country market in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region. This was a new concept at the time and as a result, the Errington Farmers’ Market became one of Vancouver Island’s first farmer’s markets.

Shaw envisioned a very nature-forward market nestled in the trees. So the family cleared bush opposite the Errington store and built rustic wooden stalls, which were soon filled with vendors selling produce, crafts and baking. The market became a popular destination, and in the 1980s, the Errington Market Society was formalized to ensure it would continue in a sustainable fashion into the future. Shaw passed away in 1988 after a fight with cancer, and in 1992, the market was moved to its current location near the Errington War Memorial—still situated in the woods as Shaw envisioned it so many years prior.

The Errington Farmers’ Market’s natural environment is one of the things long-time market shopper Beverley McCoy has always loved about it. She recalls her first visit encountering people dancing on the dirt floor in the woods surrounded by these little vendors, and what a unique experience that was. To this day, she loves “that it’s in the woods, in the dirt.” She’s been going to the market for 43 years, so she’s seen its changes and growth, and while it’s a little less “hippy” than it used to be, it’s still full of beautiful people gathering together to support their community.

And while it has a long history, she hopes it will also have a long future. McCoy’s daughter, at just 15 years old, is the market’s assistant manager, a testament to how the market is a treasured part of the community for those both young and old. McCoy dreams of a day when, should she have grandchildren, she can share the colourful market experience with them on Saturday mornings. “I hope it will still be there for my grandkids, and they’ll still be able to experience the energy and the greatness of it.”

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About the Author

Danielle Steiner

Qualicum Beach Farmers' Market

Qualicum Beach Farmers Market. Every Saturday morning from 8:30 am to noon. Local farmers have a cornucopia of fresh...