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Community market struggles to provide affordable food

The fate of a unique east Vancouver outdoor food stall, whose owner hoped to provide organic food to low-income people…

By Julie Kanhnha , in City , on January 21, 2015 Tags: ,

Creighton hopes his market will be able to continue and even expand.

The fate of a unique east Vancouver outdoor food stall, whose owner hoped to provide organic food to low-income people for below-market prices, is up in the air.

The stall that has operated in Grandview Park on Commercial Drive the last three months, called Eat It Forward, operated in an unusual way compared to other farmers’ markets or for-profit produce stores, by charging some buyers only the wholesale cost of the food.

Market manager Ken Creighton charged other customers regular retail prices. That, plus a grant from Vancity and a contribution of his own money, covered the cost of setting up the stall and provided the subsidy for poorer people.

But Creighton’s park board license expires in December and a parks planner says it’s not clear yet whether a new one would be given to Creighton.

“We haven’t received metrics yet on how the market is performing,” said sustainability planner Lindsay Cole from the Vancouver park board.

Once the board gets information from Creighton about how his operation performed, Cole said “the market will be evaluated to determine how well it meets objectives, before deciding on the next steps”.

Creighton said he is in the process of writing the report to submit it by the end of the year. He hopes that his market will be able to continue and even expand.

“I’m thinking of asking for another location and for an additional day to run the market,” said Creighton.

Ian Marcuse, who works as community food developer at the Grandview-Woodland Food Connection, a neighbourhood organization that supports food security for the community, supports the idea.

“It’s a good initiative. Providing affordable organic food is a difficult thing to do because it costs so much.”

Cheap eats

Eat It Forward is different than other farmers markets, where vendors are usually required to sell food they’ve grown or cooked themselves. Creighton, who manages this Vancouver-based non-profit, buys his food wholesale.

For each dollar of markup made from people who buy their produce at regular retail prices, one is given away to help those in need.

Several people in the neighbourhood shop at the market and support Creighton’s model.

Organic produce at below-market prices.

Christine Goldsmith, who lives half a block away from Grandview Park, has become a regular customer paying his non-discount prices for organic produce.

One thing that Goldsmith likes to buy is the butternut squash which costs $2.25 per pound, even if Save On Foods supermarket sells it at $1.99 only.

However, compared to Save On Foods, the organic Spartan apples are cheaper at the Eat It Forward market. Creighton sells his three-pound-bag of Spartan apples at $5.50 only, instead of $6.99.

Prices vary. And customers usually don’t mind. Goldsmith has been to the market many times.

“I don’t care about the prices, it doesn’t matter actually. More importantly, I want to support them.”

People who are eligible can sign up for a membership program. And then, they can access organic produce at below-market prices, at 30 per cent discount. So instead of paying $5.50 for the three pounds of Spartan apples, for instance, they would only pay $3.85.

“We don’t give away any food. It’s all about dignified access. Everyone has to pay independently,” said Creighton.

People who need the 30 per cent discount don’t pay any fees. However, they need proof and references indicating their financial situation to join.

Getting more customers

Right now, there are about 35 people in the program. To invite more low-income people in, and to offer further discounts, Creighton needs to have more customers willing to pay regular prices.

While the markups contribute to the discounts, the $500 start-up grant the credit union Vancity offered wasn’t enough to cover the costs of setting up the market. An additional $2,000 investment came out of Creighton’s own pocket.

“The market is paying back my initial investment, but slowly,” said Creighton.

The market predominantly depends on the walk-by traffic of the park. Although sales have been growing since the market started, they’ve dropped a little due to the colder weather.

“While the number of customers is variable each week, there is an average of 30 to 40 customers that actually shop,” said Creighton. But he remains optimistic.

“I anticipate that there shouldn’t be a problem and that the Park Board is going to allow the market to continue,” said Creighton, “I look forward to having lots of people come and support Eat It Forward when the market restart.”