HALIFAX – The relationship between farm and city has been an ongoing dialogue among market-goers in Halifax — a city whose geographic and psychogeographic proximity to agricultural vitality provides ample opportunity for food politics to rise to the fore. Every Saturday morning, in grand tradition, this dialogue meanders its way through the labyrinth-like, historic Alexander Keith’s brewery, the site of Halifax’s beloved farmers’ market.
But, as of this Saturday, this dialogue (along with many local producers, chefs, artists and crafters) will move to the long awaited Seaport Farmers’ Market — a state-of-the-art, environmentally focused waterfront facility widely heralded as a groundbreaking new model in the realm of green building and local ingenuity.
Despite overzealous promises that the Seaport Market will put Halifax on the map as a leader in both green building and the food movement, the development has seen its share of criticism. Change is hard. And the juxtaposition of the glossy open-concept site plan against the craggy stone walls and cosy crannies of the charming old market makes change that much more ominous. But with a chunk of the Keith’s brewery site slated for redevelopment — including about one third of the already busting-at-the-seems market space — and the current rental agreement coming to an end, change is also inevitable.
“The timing to move into a new, more permanent location could not be any better,” says Norbert Kungl, local farmer and Seaport’s chairman of the board. “In the wake of the ‘buy local’ campaign that is truly gaining strength, we are in the position to serve the community better.” One way of doing this is through transitioning from a weekly to daily market. This has been a point of contention; smaller primary producers, who may not have the capacity to go to market more than once a week, worry about the competition this expansion will create. In response, Kungl stresses that priority will be made for those smaller farmers on Saturdays (which will remain the main market day) and that the overall growth will have positive impacts for everyone. “I think time will prove that, with the new market, we will generate so many more new customers and new customer interests that people will just come to the farmers’ market instead of going somewhere else.”
Kungl is extremely positive in recounting the consultation process that was involved in developing plans for the Seaport Market, happily reporting how responsive they have been to the needs of the farming community. This tightening of the relationship between farm and city helped to make ecological considerations a collective priority: the design includes four wind turbines, a green roof, and even the potential for onsite urban agriculture. These features, while ecologically beneficial, are also seen as community education opportunities, where urban kids, youth, and community members can learn about everything from worm composting to energy efficiency to urban gardening models.
While these benefits boost its allure, nostalgic nervousness keeps many from fully giving in to the idea of a shinier new market — a justifiable feeling, even by Kungl’s estimation. Interestingly, this conversation is not specific to Halifax. In Charlottetown, where the cosy and community-centric market has gained similar momentum, outgrowing itself, there has also been a downtown expansion.
While the prospect of market growth across the region excites Kungl, he stresses the need for solutions specific to each local urban context and the people’s collective energy. “Each and every market can have its own momentum,” he says. “Yes, Halifax can serve as a role model, but at the same, if the right people come together and create something special for their community, it is totally to their credit.”
photo by Katie McKay