Farmers Markets: Gulf Islands’ Cornerstones

The five southern Gulf Islands are blessed not only with great natural beauty, but also with creative, lively Farmers Markets. I set out to explore them.

On Salt Spring Island, in Ganges at Centennial Park, I jostled in smiling throngs as I roamed among more than 150 booths. It was clear why Salt Spring Farmers Market is one of the best in Canada. It’s enormous and all goods must be “vendor produced.” Since the island abounds with funky artists and organic farmers, an incredible variety of goods was on display, many of which were highly artistic and ingenious in concept. I loved seeing fairy doors, decorative mushrooms made from recycled glass, all kinds of jewellery, pottery, artisan breads and cheeses, birdhouses from driftwood, freshly picked strawberries, spirits from a new craft distillery, sushi and much, much more. Buskers played music. A Tai Chi class exercised in the park. There was even a dog sitting service. It was heaven.

At Mayne Island I learned the market forges a bond between people and the food they eat. The market encourages and develops an awareness of local agriculture, arts and crafts, and sells locally produced goods. Wandering among the booths I quickly became hungry gazing at vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat, fresh flowers, jams/jellies, plants, lamb’s wool, goat’s milk and cheese. A vendor offering organic garlic explained there is always a changing pageant of seasonal offerings. A guitarist strummed in the background, and it seemed every vendor had a story or two to tell. I loved the great atmosphere and how it brought people together.

A short boat ride took me to the Galiano Saturday Market where I was greeted by the tones of a musician strumming on a stage. “Each Saturday is a different market,” said a vendor displaying attractive asparagus and plump strawberries. I enjoyed an enormous cinnamon bun and coffee. While an organizer explained, “We strive to make the market an event so people come and spend time here. We have a music program and even had a choir sing last year. We’ve also installed picnic tables so people can stay a while.” Suddenly a conga line snaked past us, led by a bachelorette party. What a great market!

Although Saturna Island has a very small population it still holds a regular Saturday market. The booths outside the General Store offered something for everyone: preserves, organic local produce, books, gifts, crafts, artwork, wondrous creations and more. And here too, people were smiling and enjoying the day.

Next Saturday at the Pender Island market about 50 vendors were busy setting up. Lineups formed at the most popular booths where fresh farm produce and baked goods quickly sold out. A white bichon licked my hand while its owner chatted amiably. Two girls played violins with an open case in front. I strolled to a booth and selected a meringue smothered in cream and fresh, seasonal berries. Yumm! Another great Saturday on the Gulf Islands.

Disc Golf is the Best!

Hidden away in the forest deep in the Magic Lake area is one of the finest — and least known — treasures of Pender Island: a disc golf course.

On a recent weekend the forest resounded to thumps, clangs and happy shouts as I arrived to play. With its hilly contours and stately Douglas firs, western cedars and gangling arbutuses, the course is considered one of the most picturesque in North America.

Disc golf is just like regular golf but instead of hitting a ball, you throw a plastic disc that looks like a Frisbee. Starting in the tee box, you keep throwing down the course until your disc lands in a chain basket or strikes a pole covered in metal so it makes a ringing sound. The objective is to take the minimum number of throws. The top players carry more than a dozen discs, using different ones for driving, putting and curving around trees, which have an annoying habit of getting in the way. Novices play along just fine with one or two discs. The game is totally casual. There are no waivers to sign, no tee-off times; you just show up and start to play. Best of all, it’s free (except for tournaments)!

Disc golf is played around the world and is particularly popular on the west coast. Courses are found on Salt Spring Island and Mayne Island.

I joined three friends and started. With many errant shots my score climbed embarrassingly quickly. But it was a lot of fun.

After the game, I nursed a bottle of amber fluid and thought I detected the smell of a well-known BC product wafting through the forest. What a wonderful day!

                       

If You Want to Play

– Pender Island: Disc Golf Island is in Magic Lake

– Salt Spring Island: Hart Memorial Disc Park is at Mouat Park

– Mayne Island: Disc park is at Dinner Bay

Islomania

I suffer from incurable islomania. I confess: I’m crazy about islands. They attract me and hold an immense power over me. They are addictive. I am in their thrall.

Off the southwest coast of British Columbia is an archipelago, a gaggle of glorious islands, that draws me like a super-magnet. Although they are near major centres of population, these isles are largely undiscovered. The Gulf Islands bask in the balmiest weather in the nation, and are populated by odd characters ranging from artists to aging hippies. The islands overflow with good eats thanks to abundant organic produce and seafood, not to mention four wineries and a brewery. Furthermore, seals, killer whales, eagles, deer, pileated woodpeckers and more live here in harmony.

It is easy to see why I chose to settle in the middle of the archipelago on perfect little Pender Island. There is no better place to launch a kayak and laze on the water, letting the tidal currents gently carry you along. Or to sip a glass of wine while watching the sun turn the island-bestrewn horizon into breathtaking mauves, oranges and crimsons. I love living on Pender Island.

Here is photographic proof of paradise.