Letter: Let the market bell ring

Monday, May 13 2013

The Victoria Day Long Weekend is momentous for all of us, the least likely of which is Ol’ Queen Vicky’s birthday. 

It’s the start of camping season; major gardening action; maybe a first swim; dusting the pollen off the lawn furniture; and, the kickoff to another fine year at the Gabriola Farmers’ Market. 

I love the market, and for a bunch of reasons. 

For thousands of years, from Coast Salish trading missions, to the Berber markets of Marrakesh and the vendors of Old London’s Billingsgate Market, these are the roots of our farmers’ market. It’s in our culture as a species. 

Fresh, just-picked produce, baked goods, handcrafted soap and bowls, art and jewelry, the sights and sounds and more...the farmers’ market is where you meet up, tell a few stories and make plans for the day. You can get in on some good gossip while buying a gift, signing a petition and hearing some music. 

The farmers’ market is also an enduring symbol of the free market economy at its best. Agreed, there is so much wrong and dysfunctional with the free (global) market economy. The recent horrific loss of life in the Bangladeshi garment factory is yet another case in point. Governments corrupted, workers exploited, rule of law ignored, democratic and human rights quashed. While here we are in Canada feeling enraged and powerless, and partly complicit, because we also want to buy our clothes for the best price (made in Bangladesh). 

Despite our best efforts at consumer advocacy, and buying responsibly, no consumer is free of interconnection with the global economy on some level. And while that can drive anyone crazy, there is one beautifully simple thing we can all do: go to the farmers’ market – and by extension – go to the island shops, restaurants, stores and service providers. Buy local. 

From ant traps to Zumba classes, the Gabriola Island economy offerings are deep and diverse. Businesses here are owned by individuals, not multinationals. These are islanders who have taken a chance, used their savings, borrowed from friends or against their houses, in order to provide goods and services to all of us in exchange for earning a living, raising families, paying taxes, hiring staff. 

Prices might sometimes be a little more than the big island, or online. But the profits are plowed right back into the local economy. Indeed, economic research tells us that for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 remains in the local economy; and for every $100 spent at a big-box store, only $14 stays in the local economy. I like the local numbers; and I also like doing business with people I can see and talk with. 

It is true that no economy is an island, but we can always do more in our island economy. I hope to see you at the farmers’ market this weekend. I’ll be the guy getting harangued while trying to buy a berry scone. 

I love it. 

You don’t get that kind of treatment at the big box stores!

~ Ken Gurr,

Acting President

Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce