Market gardens have been making solid inroads in the Prince Edward Island agriculture landscape for ten years or more.
With an increase in farm gate sales, farm tourist homes, as well as organic farming on the rise, the cry to buy local has taken a strong foothold in the island’s red clay. This past summer, two retail food markets opened in the Charlottetown area.
The whole concept of the two markets is to make things better for the farmer, while offering island consumers a good, locally grown, fresh product. Buying all products directly from the farmer gives the farmer more dollars in their pocket with no middleman to take profits off the top.
“Having everything in one location is a great advantage,” says Bev MacArthur, co-owner of the Bestofpei Market and Store on University Avenue in Charlottetown.
And the Riverview Country Market was recently opened by Rose Viaene with her husband David. Located on Riverside Drive in Charlottetown, Viaene says the doors are barely open in the morning before customers begin to pour in.
The same is true of the Bestofpei Market and Store that also houses a gift shop of PEI crafts in the 10,000 square feet of renovated space.
Although a smaller space, Viaene’s market also took considerable renovations and she and husband David had the business up and running in time for the busy summer season. A seafood and meat market is also part of this buy local market.
So what spurned these two women, one a lifetime farmer, the other a city businesswoman, to open a local produce market with days of each other?
For MacArthur it was trying to find good PEI meat and other island products and produce all in one place. “We could go to individual roadside markets or the (Charlottetown) Farmer’s Market, which unfortunately is only open on Saturday in the winter,” she says.
The businesswoman notes that just having all island produce in one place was how and why this new, modern market came about. Included in this large building is a dairy bar with all PEI ice cream, a deli and section for seafood, when in season. “We also have an in-house bakery…so all baked goods sold in the store is made in PEI,” says MacArthur.
For Viaene, getting as much local product onto the store shelves is the goal she and David are aiming at. There will be times when some of the produce may come from another province.
Her parents, who grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, have filled the preserves shelves with their fruit jams and she notes that they include apricots, peaches and cherries, all of which is snapped up by urban shoppers eager for a taste of home made.
But Viaene’s reason for the buy-local market goes deeper.
“We grew 150 acres of cauliflower and we did not make any money at it. We knew we were doing well selling a variety of vegetables and fruit retail at our small chuck wagon market located in Belfast.”
With that in mind, she and her husband pondered over starting something bigger in the Charlottetown area. “We kind of researched this spot for a while and after the cauliflower (failure) we downsized and grew a 40-acre garden including rhubarb, zucchini, squash, corn, potatoes, beans, strawberries.”
At the peak season, she will have 50 farmers supplying the store. The same can be said for Bestofpei Market and Store.
Initially hiring a farmer liaison in the person of Philip Brown, communications between the new (Bestofpei) market and growers increased daily. Brown, a former politician, noted that in cases of supermarkets where a consumer might buy broccoli one day that is local and come back another day and buy the same item, and it may or may not be local. “People don’t always stop to make that distinction, whereas here they don’t have to.”
MacArthur says from the original meetings with farmers, they were all very excited about the idea of the store and some are even looking at finding ways to store product like, carrots, pears and apples well into the late winter, early spring, so they can supply the Bestofpei Market.
“People are looking at the opportunity to grow more and grow longer. The roadside stand is seasonal. Once September comes there was just no advantage to growing longer,” explains MacArthur. She points out that with the high cost of gas to factor in, people are not driving around as much to pick and choose what they buy.
Doug MacArthur, husband and business partner to Bev, indicates just how convenient their market is when he points out that by summer’s end, there was upwards of 500 suppliers to the store, not to mention about 300 artisans filling the shelves in the arts and crafts side of things. “We have 75-100 producers of vegetables, fruits, beef, pork and seafood, says Doug MacArthur and adds that one individual is able to supply the market with 200 pounds of yellow beans in one visit. “This would net the grower $400,” he says.
The store tries as much as possible to get organic and which includes a good supply of organic meat. For them buying PEI product/produce is essential. “We either get product from PEI, or not at all,” he says.
Most growers supplying the two stores are smaller operations, but Brookfield Gardens, that grows 150 acres of carrots, as well as a good acreage of other vegetables like cauliflower, romaine lettuce, corn and cucumbers, is also a supplier to both new markets. Gerald Dykerman, who owns and business with his brother, Eddy, says these new markets won’t change their overall out-of-the-country shipments. “We’ll still ship the same amounts. As for the markets we are supplying both stores and if I were to say anything about these stores, I would say it is wonderful for PEI.”