Flower grower fights for the right to sell at farmers markets

Farmers markets were declared essential services, but only for food

A Kispiox farmer is fighting for his right to sell flowers at local farmers’ markets.

Jim Fowler of Kispiox Creations is growing frustrated with rules governing farmers’ markets and those who make them.

Farmers’ markets were declared an essential service by the Government of BC. in March, but were restricted to food sales.

Fowler said he has written to the BC CDC and the Ministry of Agriculture and participated in a webinar with the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) but hasn’t received answers to his questions.

“We are just coming out of the winter season and people have cabin fever, now we have COVID fever,” said Fowler. “You are going to allow vendors like myself to sell vegetable starts. People really appreciate the brightness of flowers and a lot more people are gardening because they are staying home. If we are going to be there selling vegetables why can’t we also sell flowers? And why is it that the big box stores can sell flowers like Canadian Tire and Safeway but not local flowers.”

Flowers make up two-thirds of his business, he estimated.

“I don’t make a profit on vegetables. It would cost me more to go to the market to sell them than I’d make,” he added. “We have no income in February, March and April. It is all expenses. And unlike crafters, who can store their inventory or people with meat that they can freeze, our flowers… if you don’t sell them you have to toss them and you lose your whole crop.”

Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson said hopefully with time, more vendors will be allowed to sell at the markets.

“Our primary focus with farmers’ markets during phase 1 and now phase 2 of the BC Recovery Plan is food security as public safety minister Mike Farnworth declared the food supply chain an essential service in March,” he said. “We’ve all flattened the curve with our actions to date. As we continue with our individual actions we can bend the curve down which will hasten the return to a more normal situation where, for instance, we can enjoy buying non-food items at farmers markets as part of our economic recovery.”

Recently the provincial government provided $55,000 to the BCAFM to cover fees for individual farmers markets to join the online platform and set up their digital market store presence. This would allow each participating farmers market to create its own virtual market store to best serve its communities.

However, Fowler said that doesn’t work for his business because he doesn’t have access to reliable internet and doesn’t have cell service at his greenhouse.

“It is so frustrating that no one has a clue how things are in the north,” he added.

Both the Hazelton and Smithers markets have about a quarter of the vendors they normally see each week and each of the virtual markets are even smaller.

However, Folwer did say the bright side of the whole pandemic is that their greenhouse has never been busier.

“We have a lot of new people coming in, young families, that haven’t gardened are coming in. And we can give them advice.”

He said a school in Kispiox also just placed an order for some vegetable starters so their students can start planting.

Fowler also brought in some flowers to the Out of Hand Store in Smithers that people can purchase.

Kispiox Creations has a Facebook page where interested people can find a price list and directions to the greenhouse.

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