Urban farmers' market in Charlottetown brings taste of rural to the city

Mary MacKay comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on April 13, 2014

Bev McIsaac gets some Valentine cupcakes from Martin Avery, of Earla’s Home Baking, at the Urban Farmers' Market at the Confederation Court Mall in Charlottetown.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

There’s a definite country vibe going on in Charlottetown’s downtown city core of late.

The new Urban Farmers’ Market, which is smack dab in food court central on the second floor of the Confederation Court Mall, features everything from sausages, soup mixes and spices to gluten-free baked goods and organic produce, with products like cupcakes, crafts and photographs in the vendor mix for good measure.

“People are really excited. They’re really looking forward to having something like this downtown, especially in this weather when you don’t really need to go outside to come here. You park at the parkade, just go through the mall and come in . . . . And there is really a large population connected to this complex so they don’t really need to go outside,” Kristina Van Looveren, general manager of the Confederation Court Mall, says of the twice-weekly market, which is open for business on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The vision of the Urban Farmers’ Market is that of Swiss developer Richard Homburg, whose company Homburg International purchased the Holman Grand Hotel and the Confederation Court Mall last year.

“He had ideas about every single space in the mall. He’s the man with the vision. The food court is a large area and it wasn’t utilized. He came up with the idea of letting the local people sell their things. There are a lot of Island crafters and farmers. I think that’s when the initial idea was born.” Van Looveren says.

The design of the stalls was modeled after ones Homburg had seen in Europe. The portable market booths were then built by a P.E.I. company.

“What we were looking for was to have a variety of vendors so it’s not the same product being sold at three stalls. So variety, something healthy and local — that was the idea for the market,” Van Looveren says.

The market lineup also includes Gordon MacMillan’s organic soaps through his Om-Made business, Patricia Adamic’s honey and garlic, Earla Avery’s fresh-baked cupcakes, cakes and more, and Irene Novaczek’s Oceanna Seaplants

“She sells spices and ocean sea plant spices. She’s the spice lady,” Van Looveren says.

“In another stall is a local artist, John Morris (of Lens Make a Picture). He takes shots of the Island everywhere, the wildlife, the water and nature. His work is really beautiful.”

Alan and Janet Preston don’t have far to tote their floral wares to get to the Urban Farmers’ Market. In fact their Hearts and Flowers retail space is just downstairs at street level on University Avenue.

“We like the opportunity of being able to sell directly to the customer who is in a mood to buy (on the spur of the moment). . . . We’re just trying something different and we think there’s an opportunity there with this,” says Alan.

“Right now we’re taking advantage of tulip season on P.E.I. We’re selling Vanco tulips at a good price. We’ve got the freshest flowers that you can possibly want. But we’re also making some contacts so we can bring in some other types of things, interesting little plants for people to buy. We’ve got a good line on cacti and succulents, some interesting orchids that we’re going to have. And we’re also going to bring in some herbs that people would like to have.”

For Saylor Hyde, the downtown location is a little farther afield than her typical customer crowd that frequents her Mary’s Bakery business in Cornwall.

However, this low-overhead option provides an opportunity for her to expand her newly created line of gluten-free home baked goods to a new market.

“It’s a test run for the mall and it’s also a test run for us too because we don’t have to go rent a whole other space. And it’s only two days a week so it works out well that way because you can prepare for two days. You can have two really busy days in your kitchen and then it’s over (till the next week),” Hyde says.

“It’s better because you get to keep everyone busy (during the slower seasons) and they don’t go look for extra work somewhere else. That saves me in the summertime having to retrain for two months. It just kind of keeps the wheels going really well.”

Linda Wigmore is selling her Blue Bea Lilies Candles, Reg Clark of Clark’s Country Kitchen is presenting his line of marinade sauces and soup mixes, and Marc Schurman of Atlantic Grown Organics is offering organic fruits and vegetables.

Carl Lloyd is the meat man on site at the Urban Farmers’ Market with Lloyd’s Specialty Meats, which is based in Stratford.

“It helps me in the fact that it kind of puts me out there, people see me,” he says.

“People want to be able to see the person who is selling their (product) to them. People like the fact that they can ask me questions and I will just tell them (the answer). They get to meet the producers of the products.”

At the Urban Farmers’ Market there is also an onsite Stars for Life stall that sells sand bottles, cards and other items as a fundraiser for the Autism Society of P.E.I. but also acts as a training centre for its clients as well.

In addition to not competing with each other, vendors were also chosen because they do not take away from existing businesses in the mall. They, in fact, complement the whole retail package.

“It’s a great opportunity,” says Van Looveren.

“We, as the mall complex, don’t make money off the market whatsoever, but the intention was to have something happy and different. It’s good for everybody.”