Wellington Farmers’ Market

DSC00748What happens in Wellington Saturday mornings is actually more than the Wellington Farmers’ Market. It’s a bustling, chatting, laughing, musical coffee morning to which everyone is invited. It’s a happening, a place to meet and catch up, a welcome addition to summer Saturdays and a new tradition routine for many. Yes there are farmers selling fresh produce but lots of other vendors, too, selling bread and pies, preserves and pickles, wine and cider, arts and crafts. We spoke to Louise McFaul who is not one of them – she’s the one who started the market.

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WHO IS LOUISE McFAUL?
“I run the market. I do all the management and the marketing. I’m a one-woman show for organizing. The market itself is all about the vendors and the customers, but I call myself Market Ambassador. “I don’t do crafting or growing, I’m not good at art or any of that stuff. I’m good at project management.

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I’m “from away” as they say but I married into an old family and our kids are 12th generation County. I came here for love – but I’ve still got a lot of the city in me. I was a project manager in IT and hospitality, so I was quick to notice people talking about something missing here.I heard a lot of chatter about wanting a farmers market, but it was all a bit distant and wistful. Wouldn’t it be nice? Remember when? Other towns have them. It sounded like it was focused on the past, but I thought we can probably do something about that.

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I’m a member of Wellington United Church, and I thought if they let me borrow their parking lot I could get this going. I didn’t want to put the responsibility on the church or anybody else, but I knew I was good at this stuff, and I wanted to try and take it on. If it worked we’d all share in it, if it flopped, well, I’ve got experience of that, too. I could take it on my shoulders.

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WHAT WAS THE START LIKE
Interesting. We started in 2011 so we’re in our fifth year and it certainly is working. But I’d never done exactly this kind of thing. I was used to walking into a room, taking control and organizing and getting things done. But this was different. A small town, these are my neighbours. It was a bit daunting. Most of them have been here longer than me and I was leading them somewhere I wasn’t sure of. On the other hand there were no WRONG choices, because it was all new ground. We were experimenting.

DID YOU GET A LOT OF INPUT FROM OTHERS?
Absolutely. I can’t control everything, much as I’d like to, like the weather for instance! And vendors know their stuff. I was grateful for all suggestions. Somebody suggested having musicians. Do you do that at a farmers’ market? I don’t know – but I like music. So we ran with it and people love it. When we started my kids were three and five, and we set up from 7:00 a.m. so I had to keep them amused by bringing toys and letting them chalk on the parking lot. Then other people started bringing their children and now we have a whole pack of Market Kids who have grown up with us. They run around the place helping and doing errands. The park is right here if they get bored. And they’re so good, they sort of adopt any new kids that turn up with new vendors.

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I had no idea what the evolution would be, but it has been glorious. We’re a band of people who come together regularly. We have an identity. Everybody pitches in. There’s a sense of community not just with vendors but regular customers, too. It’s a joy. We touch lives. On the surface a market is an economic driver – and we are that – but there’s stuff you don’t anticipate. Like for some vendors it’s important socially – it might be their only outing that week. It’s meaningful contact. People build relationships on a business and personal level, they make contacts, they get to know their customers. Some are sad at the end of the season because they will miss getting together this way.

WHAT ABOUT THE CUSTOMERS?
Some people come every Saturday, bring the family, get a coffee, hang out and chat. It’s a social occasion and not only paying customers enjoy it, everybody can come along and enjoy the buzz. I’m seeing a change since we started. Wellington is sort of a “hot” place NOW what with the Drake and everything, but even before that the market made a change. Business people who’ve been on Main Street a long time see it too. I remember one said,

                     “Saturdays used to be so quiet. You could throw a cat down Main Street Saturday morning,
now you have to look for a place to park.” The market is not responsible for it all, but it’s definitely part of it.

Now instead of heading off somewhere else on Saturday, people start here. They think ‘I won’t go to the post office Friday, I’ll wait till market day. Then I can see Betty, she’ll be there, I can pick up some honey for my sister’s birthday and let the kids play with the other kids there – and I go to the post office, too.’ It’s part of the family outing now. yes, I guess it’s a destination.

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GOOD FOR WELLINGTON?
Most definitely. I love that Wellington is thriving after losing so many businesses, Town Line Foods went and Midtown Meats. People felt that loss in their hearts. I’m from the city and it’s different there. I expect change, nobody wants to be dinosaur. But when you love your small town it can be threatening, it’s scary to lose things you love. I want Wellington to keep its charm and friendliness, its balance. You can’t put that in a business plan. You can write it down but you can’t guarantee it, you can just keep it in mind. Honour tradition. Like, we need a new sign, but it’s not going to be a big neon sign, even though that would show up well. It doesn’t belong here.

DO YOU MISS YOUR BIG BUDGETS?
Hah! I don’t want to be in big business any more. I love helping small businesses here in the market. I can’t do what they do, but I can facilitate them. For sure this wasn’t in my personal life plan. I didn’t see it coming! But I’m so happy I was open to it. Now I know all these great people.

WHO ARE THE VENDORS?
We’ve got more than 40 full-time seasonal vendors. Here’s some of them:
PEC Hot Sauce grow their own peppers and make sensational sauce.
Humble Bread. Henry’s bread is fantastic. People come from miles around.
Lakeshore Farms. The farm grandchildren run their market stand.
Pink Lunch Pail. She’s grown from a one-woman baking kitchen to a Main Street business in Picton.
Primal Foods makes great food products using County wine.
Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, he’s pretty well known and has a farm here.

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We get fresh oysters. Wineries and cideries can sell here now thanks to new legislation. It means their neighbours can buy their wines without having to do the whole tourist thing if they don’t want to. People bring pottery, leather, even antiques this year. One woman brought an entire turn-of-the-century living room suite to the market, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!

Some people come to showcase their new business. They don’t expect to sell on that day – just let people know about them. It’s dirt cheap advertising. I love the commitment we see. One of our original members Barry Spriggins passed away. We honoured his memory by donating his space to the young people of the 4H Club for the rest of the season. This year his son Dan is continuing his dad’s market presence.We’re so pleased the family wants to stay with us.I guess people get really attached to the market. I know I have.”

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