Farmer’s market fiasco: ‘It would be like forcing you to live with your ex-husband,’ Coun. McConnachie
City council has made it clear that fixing the rift between two competing farmer’s markets in Prince George isn’t its job.
However, city staff and council are forcing the matter by demanding that two markets learn to work together by next year because it wants to designate Veterans Plaza as the only downtown location for farmer’s markets.
“We have two groups that can’t get along for whatever reason,” Mayor Lyn Hall said Monday. “We can’t mediate that, so don’t ask us to.”
The farmer’s market has, for the past two decades, operated at Wilson Square, outside the Courthouse under the auspices of the Prince George Farmer’s Market Association. A couple of years ago a rift opened between vendors when some wanted to have a year-round market. Vendors moved into the old Morrison’s Men’s Wear location, basically kitty-corner to the outdoor market. Then the move was made to the current location on Sixth Avenue behind the Keg.
Vendors who did not want to move locations formed their own market called the Wilson Square Community Market.
“Since the indoor market moved to Sixth Avenue there has been unresolved conflict in the society,” Maria Pennock of the Wilson Square Community Market told council.
Last year the Wilson Square Community Market operated on the traditional spot outside the courthouse while the Prince George Farmer’s Market Association operated at its Sixth Avenue location.
Pennock said they met with the city in February and left that meeting with the impression that set-up would continue. However, three weeks after the initial meeting, they met again and everything had changed.
“It was a completely different plan than three weeks earlier, we were absolutely shocked,” said Pennock. “The city was pushing for immediate answer so they could make an announcement. As a democratic society, voted on the matter and collectively decided that we preferred Wilson Square.”
Complicating matters, however, was the fact that the Prince George Farmer’s Market Association sought a city permit for the location at the courthouse even though it does not seem to want to operate there.
“We support the city proposal to designate the streets adjacent to Veterans Plaza as a Prince George public market space,” said Randall Stasiuk of the Prince George Farmer’s Market Association, adding it also supports it continuing to use the Sixth Avenue location and having the Wilson Park group move to the Veteran’s Plaza area.
This would fit in with the city’s proposal to have all these groups, including the Immigrant and Multicultural Society, operating markets in one location.
Pennock said her group is worried the smaller voices will get pushed out.
She said the Wilson Park Community Market’s choices are to go to location they don’t want, close down the market completely, or move out of the downtown.
Coun. Brian Skakun suggested leaving the status quo for a year while the markets sort out how they can work together. That was echoed by Coun. Terri McConnachie who suggested the city shouldn’t be forcing a solution on the groups.
“Instead of solving the problem, I think this is exacerbating one that already exists,” McConnachie said. “Love the idea but we can’t force active participation … The concept of a new public market can’t mean more to us than it does to the players involved … It would be like forcing you to live with your ex-husband.”
Hall said he is very much in favour of a community market.
“I’ve said for a very long time, we need to ride the Games momentum and utilize our public space,” Hall said. “It’s the best front yard in town.”
Council eventually agreed to allow the two markets to continue this year, as they did last year, but with the proviso that a different working arrangement be sorted out for next year.
“We can’t just allow this to hang in limbo and do nothing,” Hall said.