I live in a very large U.S. city that doesn't have a permanent structure for a year-round farmers market. In my travels to the Maritimes in Canada, relatively small cities (mostly) have a year-round farmers market permanent structure.
My travels have taken me to Halifax, Moncton, Charlottetown, and St. John's in recent years. Moncton and Charlottetown have relatively small structures but do host a market all 12 months. In 2009, Halifax had a maze that Alice in Wonderland would have been impressed with the path.
St. John's does not have a permanent structure: they operate out of the Lion's Club. Even on a very cold (40s Fahrenheit) Saturday in late July, the market drew a huge amount of people. The city hopes to have a permanent structure at the old bus station next year. That is further thought and expansion than my large U.S. city has at the moment.
Halifax built a rather impressive farmers market shortly after my last visit.
The Halifax Seaport Farmers Market is right on the water between the Harbourwalk and Pier 21 and the Immigration Museum. The structure used to be an airplane hanger.
The market is so close that cruise ships can pull up near the market making for an extra nice visual when visiting the market. Those cruise ships also bring potential customers to the market.
The market is open 7 days a week though the market is busiest on Saturdays followed by Sundays. Parking is free on weekends and holidays but you have to pay for parking on weekdays. Several city buses go down Barrington in the downtown area, which would put you nearby. And if you are staying at the Westin in downtown Halifax, the market is literally in your back yard.
Taking the elevator to the 3rd floor allows patrons to take what they have bought and enjoy the view of the water and cruise ships. Brightly coloured Adirondack chairs provide comfort while eating locally grown food.
The 2nd floor is mostly art, a needed mix in a climate where the winters can be brutal. There are ready made food options upstairs so don't ignore that section. The 2nd floor allows you to see the entirety of the main floor below.
There is limited outdoor seating on the 2nd floor in the northeast corner of that floor.
You get the feel of being in a large airplane hanger from either primary floor but when you reach the main floor, you see why that can be an ideal structure. The place is never loud even when full thanks to the high ceilings.
There are permanent structures on the western half of the main floor, some facing the inner room and others facing the parking lot. The middle is set up with aisles to give some separation but the feel is mostly of a large oval like a race track.
The primary room is mostly food: produce, baked goods, meat, cheeses, pickled vegetables. You can also get ready-to-eat foods. If you think of the Maritimes as being about the United Kingdom and Ireland, you will be very surprised to see "ethnic" foods such as samosas and Saturday noodles. You can also get more expected treats such as lobster rolls.
Saturday mornings in the summertime can get a little crowded. A little patience and time spent checking out numerous options will help get you through the crowd.
On Saturdays, the market opens up a supplemental room for art exhibits that lies to the south of the main floor. The crowds are easier to manage in that room and the washrooms are in between the two major rooms.
Managing the seasons
Seeing the farmers market in the height of summer is a beautiful thing. The true value of a farmers market is what the structure brings to a community in the harshest of weather conditions.
Saturday morning with a coffee walking around wondering if you need more mustard pickles to bring home or get an oatcake for your breakfast. You run into one of your friends who you haven't seen in awhile since, well, it's winter.
In summertime, people were sitting on the steps between the main floor and the 2nd floor because even though there are seats, there were more people who wanted to sit down than seats. In winter, you might have enough seats, but you can sit and catch up with your friend.
You can also talk with the farmers and local food producers and build on that relationship you started over the summer. Farmers markets don't always have to be about growing seasons.
Why Halifax got it right
Large enough structure, downtown location with parking, good mix of food and art, easy to get to even without a car, and near where tourists are.
The building is impressive on the outside as well as the contents on the inside. This is how you do a permanent year-round farmers market.
photos credit: me