Small Business Lessons: The BC Association of Farmers’ Markets has a new program for entrepreneurs

For our Small Business issue, we asked 14 B.C. businesses how they're surviving in this economy. Here's one of them

It’s mind-boggling how quickly a farmers market can transform an empty parking lot into a buzzy, abundant destination, with crunchy apples, flower-infused honey and mountains of leafy kale lining the tented stands. It’s fresh fruits and veggies aplenty—and it’s also a vibrant hub for entrepreneurs.

“The farmers market is a great place to work out your business structure, especially in economic uncertainty,” says Melissa Maltais, membership and programs manager for the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets. “It’s on a smaller scale, so you can adapt and change as you get feedback, and you’ve got this warm community that’s there to support you and provide you with resources to help.”

It’s true that securing a spot at a farmers market involves less of a financial commitment than, say, opening a restaurant or brick-and-mortar retail shop—but the cost can still be prohibitive to some entrepreneurs. To address this, the association launched a pilot program called Hatch and Hype in 2021.

“We really wanted to highlight how farmers markets are incubators in the economic development community, and that it really is a great place to launch a startup business,” says Maltais. Through this program, small businesses don’t have to buy a tent or table (the price to participate varies between markets—some are fully sponsored by nonprofits like the Community Futures Network of British Columbia and some have a minimal fee—think less than $50) and have access to low-cost liability insurance, free promo materials, community resources and educational opportunities.

The Hatch and Hype initiative began in the Kootenay/Columbia Basin area: in Cranbrook, for example, Bianca Tempel launched her stuffed cookie business, Snickadoodle Summit Bakery, and Kristin Gyurkovits founded her small-batch kombucha biz under the name TruBooCha Kombucha. Recently, the program has expanded to supporting entrepreneurs in Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Maltais points out that programs like Hatch and Hype have become especially essential for the survival of small businesses during the current downturn—plus, initiatives like these help make the market community more welcoming for everyone. “[Hatch and Hype] really started to expand the cultural diversity of the farmers market, because it was very appealing to folks that are new immigrants or refugees wanting to launch in that space,” she explains. “We’re breaking down that barrier of entry.”

What’s Cracking

The Hatch and Hype program has only just launched in markets in Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, so those stats are still pending. But here’s the report from the Kootenay/Columbia Basin region:

  • 13 farmers markets participating

  • 175 new farm and food vendor businesses created

  • 194 new products launched by existing vendors

  • 269 total products featured at the markets