Eat Here Now Fest hopes to show Victorians crave year-round market

Organizers aim to offer local crops seven days a week

The Victoria Downtown Public Market Society will be hosting the Eat Here Now fest Sept. 11. Historically, Victoria has shown its support for public markets, like this former market on Broad and Cormorant Street.

Organizers aim to offer local crops seven days a week

Victorians, get ready to stuff your faces. The city’s biggest public market and food-fest is coming your way this week, and everything will be ripe for the picking.

Thanks to the Victoria Downtown Public Market Society (VDPMS), the second-annual Eat Here Now Fest Victoria Harvest Food Festival will be blooming from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Centennial Square this Sunday, Sept. 11.

The VDPMS was able to host the first-ever monthly winter markets in Market Square this year, followed with a by-demand monthly summer market, which wrapped up on Aug. 28. While residents will have to wait a few months for the winter market to begin again, city councillor and VDPMS organizer Philippe Lucas says the festival is a great tribute to those wanting to celebrate the region’s fall crops and food security potential.

“We’re really pleased with this year’s turn out,” says Lucas. “We’re offering extremely high-quality products, 20 extra vendors, great local musical entertainment and new kids-focused areas … If you can let farmers know there is a consistent place to buy and sell their goods, they will provide. We want to create that direct opportunity and we need infrastructure to support that.”

While last year’s fest saw nearly 5,000 patrons, with more planning time and better advertising Lucas says he’s expecting thousands more to hit this year’s event. And while last year saw an impressive number of vendors, this year the VDPMS has signed up 13 restaurant retailers (who plan on offering 500 tastings), dozens of local produce providers along with bakeries and butchers, as well as 12 wine and brewery tables.

The kids areas will offer exploratory workshops, touchable sea life tanks, bouncy play areas and more.

“What we want is to show that Victoria is ready to support a seven-day-a-week, local food market, right in the heart of downtown,” says Lucas. “Last year we had so many farmers and locals asking us, ‘Why can’t we do this all the time?’ And we can.”

The festival itself is free to all, though there is a charge of “a buck a bite” for the samples, and a $15 fee for entering the unlimited wine/beer/cider/mead tasting area. And while the goal of the market is to bring local farmers as direct a profit as possible — tables for food producers are only $25, and $50 for retailers — half the proceeds from the samples will go toward the VDPMS.

The group plans to fund a study on what local residents and farmers hope to see in a permanent, seven-day downtown market, which will then be used to seek further funding. While the VDPMS received a grant of $10,000 from the city this year, Lucas says it still takes approximately $6,000 to $8,000 to host the festival, which is entirely volunteer-run.

When it comes to support for the market and festival, none may be more enthusiastic than the farmers who make up so many of the booths.

Evenly Pereira from Terra Nossa Family Farm, a 26-acre family farm located in the Cowichan Valley, says she couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of the festival for a second year in a row. While the farm can often be found at the Moss Street Market each week, Pereira says the Eat Here Now fest is a special opportunity to raise their profile in the community.

“I always get excited when I hear about events going on in Victoria, but as a farmer you never know if it’s going to be a waste of your time or what. Last year’s event was blow-away incredible, though,” says Pereira. “We’re bringing two or even three freezers full of meat this time.” M

For more info, or to sign up to volunteer, visit victoriapublicmarket.com, search the “Eat Here Now: Victoria Harvest Fest 2011” Facebook page, or follow the group’s Twitter feed: @VicPubMark.

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