Farmers’ markets attract city dwellers the way clover fields draw bees. Every major Canadian city has at least one, and since colonial days they have been a favourite tool of city planners seeking to develop new communities or rejuvenate rundown parts of town.
Though farmers’ markets traditionally have not been money-making commercial real estate ventures, a spate of new permanent structures suggests they have a new role as a popular anchor for urban redevelopment to lure both tourists and residents as the buy-local food movement gathers momentum across North America.
“They may make lots of money for the vendors and for businesses in the area around them, but the markets themselves don’t usually make money,” said Keith Tufts, lead architect for the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market that opened in 2010.
Halifax’s market history dates back to a royal proclamation in 1750 that approved the establishment of the first official farmers’ market in North America. By contrast, Granville Island Market began operating in Vancouver on the south side of False Creek under the Granville Street Bridge in the 1970s.
New markets are usually built with property and financial aid from government. But they also rely on support from vendors, farmers, local residents and other interested parties, as the Fulton Street Farmers’ Market in Grand Rapids, Mich., did when it sold personalized bricks to raise capital to build a new covered market and public square recently.
Other new market buildings have been erected in recent years in London, where a new market was built in a square that has held a farmers’ market since 1853 and in Saskatoon, which opened its first covered market building in a prime redevelopment area known as River Landing on a bank of the South Saskatchewan River.
The Halifax Port Authority Development initiated the $13-million Seaport market, in part, to serve its growing cruise ship business. Almost a quarter of a million cruise passengers arrived in the harbour last year and one of the first things they saw from the towering multi-storey ships was Seaport’s landscaped roof, Mr. Tufts said.
“My favourite part of the building is the green roof,” he said. “The view from it is spectacular. And even though it’s more expensive to put a deck over a roof, it protects the structure. Normally a roof has to be replaced every 15 to 20 years, but with the green roof protecting it, this one should last twice as long.”
It is an important attraction and is also rented for weddings and other functions.
The ambitious market development was designed to meet and exceed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum standards and features state-of-the-art sustainability treatments such as wind-turbine-powered outdoor lighting, a combined geothermal-solar energy system, grey water recycling and interior ceilings and other furnishings made from wood recovered after Hurricane Juan toppled trees in 2003.
“I love walking through the market and hearing people talk about ‘Juan wood,’ “ said Mr. Tufts, who arranged to use the wood after a local company salvaged Halifax’s hurricane-felled trees. His firm, Lydon Lynch Architects, now has its office on the market’s second floor.
“The great thing is that the farmers were 100 per cent behind sustainability because that’s the world they live in,” he said. “Out on their farms they waste nothing. Everything is valuable. They’re dealing with a finite amount of resources and they understand the value of being in a green building that’s energy-responsible.”
The building is on the site of an old warehouse and is down the street and around the corner from the city’s historic market located in an old stone brewery near downtown Halifax, which continues to operate on Saturdays. Seaport, which is open six days a week year round, was built as the centrepiece of a port lands rejuvenation project.
The market is packed with locals on most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and ranks as one of the three most popular tourist sites in the city, Mr. Tufts said. Cruise passengers stream through the market but are so well fed on the ships they prefer arts and crafts to food.
The vendor board, which has a 40-year lease on the Port Authority building and operates the market, carries a larger mortgage than most other farmers’ markets and is in talks now with creditors about refinancing options, said board president Chris de Waal, whose shop, Getaway Farms Classic Butcher, sells grass-fed beef from his family’s farm.