I’m blaming my lack of posts this summer on pie. And bread, and cookies too. Add in a few dozen buns, crackers and one experimental batch of baklava, and you know what The Cameron Family Bakers have been up to every Thursday and Friday since mid-May.
There were many reasons for committing to a summer of baking for the Gibsons Farmers’ Market, but rolling in dough (of the monetary kind — I couldn’t resist that pun) was not one of them. It’s a good thing we didn’t have high expectations on the financial front, because by my calculation we are making an average of about $2 per hour. Considering that the market consumes at least two full (and I mean full!) days each week, it could be dejecting to walk away with little more than coffee money each Friday afternoon. But I’m not dejected, and here’s why…
When we heard that the newly formed Gibsons Public Market — a local organization that aims to put a full-time market in place over the next couple of years — was looking to establish a Friday afternoon Farmers’ Market to generate awareness and raise funds, we jumped at the opportunity to create a learning/working experience for our children while building stronger roots within our community. Yesterday marked the halfway point of the 2014 market season, and I would say that we have already achieved both of those goals. While I am in some ways counting down the weeks, I also know that when the third Friday of October arrives without a market to attend, I will miss packing our camper van full of home-baked goods and heading down to what used to be the Gibsons Yacht Club to share food and laughter with friends and visitors alike.
I don’t think we’ll fully understand the learning opportunity that this market is providing for Iris and Simon until someday down the road, but I’m sure that we’ll all look back fondly on this summer of excessive baking. It’s not without its challenges — making 20-30 fruit pies, a dozen or more loaves of bread and a hundred or so cookies within 24 hours is no small task. Doing that and then standing at a booth for 6+ hours is downright exhausting. And yet, we manage to find the energy each week to put forth our best effort — despite art camps and bike camps and music camps and swimming lessons and power outages… and all the other day-to-day challenges that life throws our way. Every time Sheila and I think the kids are beginning to lose interest (which happens about twenty-seven times a week), they muster enough energy to get the job done. Whether it’s Iris’s mastery of pie-crust rolling or Simon’s penchant for kneading dough or Sheila’s early morning bread shifts or my double batches of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, each of us — four equal partners in our family business (aka summer homeschool project) — contribute whatever it is that we have to offer.
Over the course of the summer we have spent many hours debating which products to focus on, how and where to source ingredients, and how to price our goods. Some of our discussions — especially those about pricing — have reminded me of brutal-but-productive boardroom meetings during my many years running a software company. Our kids are learning that it is not easy to strike a balance between profitability, quality and “accessibility” (i.e. pricing things in a way that most people can afford them), and they are gaining an appreciation for how difficult it is to run your own business. At the same time, they’re also learning what a rich experience that can be. And hey, $20 or more per week is pretty good money when you’re 9 or 11 years old.
We’ve chosen to stick to our collective values, which place quality and accessibility ahead of profit. We buy as much as we can from local sources, and we use organic ingredients wherever possible. Some of our products are surprisingly expensive to make, even though we buy many of our supplies in bulk. But even that is a learning opportunity for all of us. I have an even greater appreciation now for our dear friends who are commercial bakers — who have been nothing but gracious in their support of our family project, even though we are essentially competing with them for five months — for sticking to the same values that are driving us to make high quality food available at reasonable prices.
We have no plans to repeat this venture, which makes it easier to appreciate. Just like managing my aunt and uncle’s vacation rental property in Tofino last fall (on Chesterman Beach, no less), we are viewing this as a one-time opportunity and we’re determined to make the most of it. Who knows, maybe we’ll think of another way to be involved in the market next year… or maybe we’ll just go down there every Friday afternoon to appreciate the labour of love that so many other vendors put forth each week.
And if nothing else, we’ve sure learned how to bake bread and cookies and crackers.. and pie, of course.