Members of the Armstrong Elementary School Maypole Dance Club will perform at the Armstrong Farmers’ Market May 9. The market opens for the season Saturday at the IPE fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to noon.

Members of the Armstrong Elementary School Maypole Dance Club will perform at the Armstrong Farmers’ Market May 9. The market opens for the season Saturday at the IPE fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to noon.

Armstrong named top market

There will be fresh asparagus and more as the Armstrong Farmers’ Market opens for the season

It’s been more than 40 years since a group of farmers joined forces to form the Armstrong Farmers’ Market.

The oldest continuously running market in B.C. has just been named Farmers’  Market of the Year at the annual B.C. Association of Farmer’s Market Conference, winning in the medium (21 to 60 vendors) category.

“It was a real honour to receive this award, thanks to all of the hard work of our vendors and our volunteer board of directors,” said Cat Majors, president of the Armstrong Farmers’ Market (AFM). “Many thanks go out to them for the vital ongoing teamwork.”

The awards recognize outstanding farmers’ markets that are exemplary in adding value to their communities. A review panel made up of industry experts considered how each farmers’ market connected producers to consumers through fresh, locally grown foods and artisan products.

The AFM began in 1973 thanks to a handful of concerned farmers who wanted to sell their produce to local citizens while at the same time provide a livelihood for themselves from the fruits of their labours. Among the pioneers were the Jong family, the Maw family, Raymond Hitt of Valley Vista Farm, Art Cayford of Morning Sun Orchard, Mildred Inglis and Margaret Andres.

“Soon, a colourful array of local crafters added to the mix.  Amazingly, the Jong family, the Maw family, Raymond Hitt and Art Cayford continue to provide their healthy local fruits and vegetables to the community from the Armstrong Farmers’ Market to this day,” said Majors. “Their dedication is a good example of carrying on the tradition of the small family farm as sustainable agriculture.

“And we have another fun-filled delicious year coming up to continue our reputation as an enjoyable Saturday morning destination for all ages.”

Majors said the secret to the market’s success is that its customers are their neighbours, and they all care about the freshness and taste of local produce, as well as the importance of being environmentally responsible.

But the Saturday morning market is also about fun, beginning with the handmade circus pennants made by local artist Jamie Frazer.

“They add perfectly to  a whimsical atmosphere. We also have some pretty unique special events, and lots of other non-profit organizations are encouraged to attend which adds up to a great market experience for the community.”

The AFM is also known for being the place to find some of the first fresh local asparagus, usually in late April, and that means at the first market of the season on Saturday, there will be plenty of the tasty green spears on hand.

“And one really can’t overestimate the exquisite flavour and variety of heirloom fruits and vegetables that are grown in our area.”

Throughout the market season, there are a number of special events, such as the Mother’s Day Market May 9. The fun begins with the Armstrong  Elementary School maypole dancers parading through the market at 9:30 a.m., jingling tambourines, before their traditional dance around the maypole at 10 a.m.

Other highlights include the Father’s Day market June 20, the annual Very Berry Cherry Fiesta July 18, celebrating tomatoes, cherries and berries, and the annual Armstrong Farmer Literary Market Aug. 15 with local authors mingling with book lovers and the Okanagan Regional Library in attendance.

“We have another fun-filled delicious year coming up to continue our reputation as an enjoyable Saturday morning destination for all ages. We have a wonderful, brand new market manager, Susan Cairnie, who is also a Young Agrarian and passionate about local food and crafts.”

And for the City of Armstrong and the Township of Spallumcheen, where many of the farmers live, the Armstrong Farmers’ Market is a firm tradition.

“The market boosts tourism, helps to make property values skyrocket, creates food security, keeps seniors and youngsters alike active, puts a smile on your face and dinner on your plate. It promotes shopping locally, reduces the carbon footprint and thus is especially good for the environment. It promotes sociability, accessibility and inclusiveness.

“Everyone is excited to be opening for a new year of showcasing and sharing the bounty this valley has to offer. We shall be enjoying the celebration of our win of Farmers’ Market of the Year all season.”

The Armstrong Farmers’ Market opens Saturday and runs every week until October at the IPE Fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to noon. Enjoy hot coffee and home baking, as well as a free advice clinic with The Thompson Okanagan Chapter of the Master Gardeners.