Thursday, February 24, 2011

castle downs farmers market...a bust?

We attended the Castle Downs Farmers Market last night. I found it extremely interesting to see the differences in markets, both in the mix of vendors and the clientele. In fairness to the market, it was only their third week running and there is still no internet presence that would pop up on any search but it was not a good night for more than a few vendors. Situated in the Moose Lodge on 146th Ave. and Griesbach Road, it is a wonderful location for a farmers market. A lovely feel to the old building.

Even though there was about the same amount of customers come through the door last night as attend Alberta Avenue Market I could tell right away that I was in trouble. Almost nobody who came to the market was carrying their own grocery bags. Very quickly in my rookie season of farmers marketing, I was able to determine who my customers were by those tell-tale recycled nylon grocery bags. People sauntering in with their hands in their pockets are unlikely to purchase many groceries. 

From a customer's standpoint though, the Castle Downs Farmers Market is a boon! There was more than one of almost everything. A few bakers, a couple of vendors with extensive selections of jams and preserves, vegetables and produce, hemp, flour, meats, eggs. Pretty much everything you'd need for a weeks worth of groceries! Still, very few people who attended the market were there to purchase groceries. If you are a farmers market supporter, you will definitely want to check out the Castle Downs market. With such a diverse selection of premium food stuffs and very little competition from other customers, there was no fear of things running out!

It was a different customer base last night also. I was definitely out of my comfort zone with too many people who listen to 630 CHED too often. I missed my CBC Radio or CKUA friends! I actually had a couple walk past and as hubby was pulling her towards my table, she said "oh no, that stuff is organic". I got a little bit of a dirty look as they quickly detoured away. Those of you who live in Edmonton will understand my references to the radio stations. Let's just say that, as a generalization, there are people who are afraid to stray from the norm of the chemical age and those who embrace change and see the benefits of zero chemical inputs and healthful local food. 

Of course I understand that not everybody buys flour each week. I had a few lovely conversations with folks who just didn't need flax or flour yet. Will they purchase next week at this market?

I sure don't want to seem ungrateful for the couple of customers who did purchase our products. There were glimmers of hope from folks who "get it" and i will stick with this market for at least a couple more weeks. There is plenty of potential there. For local foodies, you do not want to miss all the selections offered in this compact market! 

Tonight though is the Alberta Avenue Farmers Market where customers purchase food...and I certainly appreciate seeing all those re-cycled shopping bags! We thank everyone who chooses to support our little farm. See you at the market tonight!


  1. I hope consumers figure this out quickly so all the hard work of the market manager, board, and vendors are not wasted! I'd love to check it out.

  2. I didn't even know that they were going to start a farmers market up there! The more the better, but I must say I'm happy to hear that AB Farmer's Market's been such a good experience this year. I raise my morning coffee to you for a profitable year (and for our little market!)

  3. John
    Considering that the new Casltledowns market was only in it's third week and considering that that was your first time at that is it that you can determine what will and can happen at the Castledowns market? In the three weeks I've been there I've seen an increase in volume, a lot of new faces as well as people who are returning every week. The comments I've been receiving are mostly..."it's about time there was a market here" All of this without a lot of advertising.

    Now if you feel this community has no clue about organic food then instead of critisizing why not look at this as an opportunity to educate people on this subject. People at this point are curious to see what is available at the market so, no, they didn't bring there reusable bags with them. But that doesn't mean that they won't next time.

    The reason the Castledown market exists is because of the attitude of the Avenue market. I wish the Avenue great success because the PEOPLE in the area deserve a farmers market and everthing good that comes from that.

    Every market has a different feel to it. Just imagine how the Castledown market is going to feel about you when you come in on Wednesday. It's easy to sell to people you can relate to or are comfortable with but the challenge in life (if you believe in what you do) is changing the minds of those who don't agree with you... I guess it all comes down to what your bottom line is.

    Vendor Castledowns Market

  4. April...did you really read my blog post?

    First of all, the blog post is in support of the Castle Downs Market and the third sentence states that it was only in it's third week. Secondly, it is an observation of the different client base between markets, not a criticism of one market over another. I was not in a position to offer definitive reasons for the differences, just stating the was pretty obvious.

    I do not wish to attempt to "change people's minds" April. There is plenty of research and findings from groups like Canadian Cancer Society and Physicians and Surgeons associations on the subject of chemicals in our diet and our environment.

    I have often heard of the politics of farmers markets.

  5. that sure came off as condescending
    why the 'us vs. them' mentality?
    like 630CHED listeners are beneath you and other CBC/CKUA listeners

    why you would purposely choose such an acerbic path is beyond me
    one of the issues that i struggle with;
    the elitist mentality of the eco/organic movement

    strength comes in building up,
    let the weaker do the tearing down

  6. It is not at all an "us vs. them" thing. It is simply "us" likes to purchase products from our farm and "them" do not. I don't begrudge "them", I simply prefer "us". "Versus" implies some sort of struggle or conflict. Non exists on my end.

    The 630ched vs CKUA/CBC is an analogy like Fox vs. MSNBC in the U.S. I happen to appreciate the type of people who listen to CKUA/CBC (and MSNBC for that matter) because they are more likely to be the people that purchase my products and think like I do. It was meant to be at least mildly amusing and I still don't see much of a controversy here. I have many friends and family that listen to 630CHED...I am not afraid of losing them over my comment on this blog. It was an over-generalization that borders on ridiculous right? It was an attempt at some form of satire. Unless I stated somewhere in my post that I believe that CBC/CKUA listeners are better than CHED listeners you just took it that way.

    Acerbic style is a matter of personal taste. I think my post was more a statement of facts and was to the point. You're confusing matter-of-fact with acerbic. Acerbic is far too strong a word.

    I just don't feel like debating or convincing anyone of anything anymore. That is not an elitist attitude...I simply prefer to deal with people that have done their research and have reached a conclusion that is similar to mine. I am guessing that that statement applies to pretty much everyone on earth doesn't it? Admitting that doesn't make me an just makes me honest.

    My last comment on the subject of this post is that the Castle Downs Farmers Market is a great market for customers right now. There is a ton of good food to buy and I hope it gets better for the vendors right away. The more markets that survive and flourish the better.

  7. By the way...I am not publishing anymore anonymous comments on this blog. I am happy to publish comments that don't agree with me...just put a name to them. That way I can respond correctly to people as it relates to what they may have said earlier.

    I am unsure if this is the case or not, but I don't enjoy being called elitist and creating division by someone who is quoted as saying "The reason the Castledown market exists is because of the attitude of the Avenue market."

  8. Hey John,
    Just a note to say that after putting in thousands of hours over the past ten years at many markets in the Edmonton area, I enjoyed reading your post about the Castledowns Farmers Market. What it speaks to for me is a level of perception that comes with being a) superaware/ knowledgeable about your product--what you're offering and super aware/knowledgeable about the people who want it. Every producer or vendor who has this knowledge carries it over into their ability to "read" a venue. It's not bad or good, it's simply different. In the years that I sold at the "old" City Market on 97th St. I got to know that crowd intimately and loved it very much. At the same time I supported the move to 104th St to ensure the survival of the market--totally different crowd, totally different buy patterns (even what TIME people shop) and it opened up a bunch of different possibilities. I love it too, though there are many things that I miss about the old one. What I mean to say is that there are lots of different kinds of markets; I respect you for giving us the real deal about your experience there. The truth is that sometimes markets don't work--it can be a combination of vision, vendor mix, location, venue, hours, day of the week, or a number of other things. When I took the Project for Public Spaces market training course in New York in 2004, I was so struck by HOW practical they were. I remember the instructor, an expert in markets (globally) who also used to run a large public market in Philadelphia saying something like "Markets--of course everyone loves them! Of course everyone wants them! But just because you love them and you want them doesn't mean it's going to work. If a market doesn't work for a producer, it simply doesn't work. If it doesn't work for consumers, it's hard to "make" it work without adjusting some of the elements that I mentioned earlier. Of course, if it's a new market, you want to give it some time but you also can't just put in hours endlessly with out seeing some payoff. You're not a charity, you're a business. To run a viable farm, you need to make a certain level of sales. I'm pleased that Edmonton is seeing an increased interest in farmers' markets and as a result the number of them in the area is increasing, but I think that we also have to recognize that just because they're there doesn't always mean they're going to work. I do hope the best for the Castledowns Farmers' Market--it's in an area of the city that I think has a lot of potential. I'll try and come by the next time you're there!

  9. Thanks Lola...when it comes to markets you are one of the authorities for sure. I appreciate your insight. Cindy and I were talking last night about all of this and in light of the veiled threat by one of the vendors...

    "Just imagine how the Castledown market is going to feel about you when you come in on Wednesday."

    along with the fact that the market is so new it just doesn't make sense for us to be there right now. We have such limited resources at this stage in our business...we just need to flow where it is easiest to be successful for now.

    We have received so much great advice about where to go from experienced marketers whom we respect. So, we have applied to the City Market spring session. That market fires up not this weekend, but next. We just want to focus right now on the markets that make sense for us. The Alberta Market is working so well for us right off the start that we will be devoted to it and hopefully the City Market is the same. Time will tell.

    With the mix of vendors at the Castle Downs Market I would guess that it is going to be a big success one day.

  10. Hi John,
    I only just found out about the Castle Downs Market and I'm very curious make a visit as I live in the Lago Lindo area. Although we've never met, we talked on the phone last year about the Cityfarm indoor growing program and I was looking for organic buckwheat. I'm glad I will be able to find you at the Avenue Market as that is still not too far from the far north and also on a week day. And I hope you will have reason to go back to the Castle Downs Market one day.

  11. Hi John
    I am just in my second year of Farmers Markets and this very market is one we have been thinking about. John, your information is valuable but I really do understand why some thought you were being a bit condescending. It is all in the approach, I think. No biggie though. We too have a product that only does well with certain types. We grow Heirloom tomatoes. Not red tomatoes. Our first venue was complete and utter disaster. The second, a small market way in the boonies was MUCH better. Not many out in the country were very interested in Heirloom tomatoes, nevermind black ones,and for sure not Natural ones. We are not certified organic but we do not use any chemicals at all. I have a toad living in my greenhouse and he is the one we look out for. LOL We know our product is great. But we also know that a lot of people do not want to pay the extra amount for Heirloom vegetables - not in the country. Once we get our customers to taste our tomatoes, they are hooked!! lol We realized right away that we probably need a more urban setting to do really well. Hopefully the Castle Downs market will have us next year. Good luck to you John, I will most certainly buy your products - I will look for you at the Alberta Avenue market. And I do listen to CBC and CKUA. Just joking. LOL Blogs like this are the best tool we all have to share information. Thank you very much for your insights. I appreciate them a great deal.

  12. People are very welcome to form their opinions on my writing style and wording. Good luck with your marketing Heather! Thanks for commenting.