Meet some successful Yellowknife Farmers Market businesses

Since the first 5:15 bell was rung more than two years ago, the Yellowknife Farmers Market has been a huge success. From the health benefits of eating locally grown produce to supporting the economic development of numerous growing small businesses to the sense of community fostered by thousands of smiling faces mingling with their neighbours after work, the market’s had a huge impact on the community.

Organizers conservatively estimate the event’s economic impact at greater than $1 million, using a standard economic multiplier applied to vendor revenue totals over the season. As well, head counts indicate as many as 2,000 people will visit Somba K’e Civic Plaza on a busy night.

The event is acting as a food business incubator, says its Chair. A few vendors started off sharing a table and this year they’re on their own as they “build up their proudcts and self esteem and know they can do it on their own,” says France Benoit, adding one vendor recently started Saffron, an Indian food truck.

The market was the brainchild of France, its current chair, and Amy Lizotte. In EDGE, France has written about gardening and Amy about the vision for a market garden in Yellowknife. “We knew we would have a dozen vendors. We didn’t know if pepole would come. But they came in the hundreds,” France recalls. “And we never really looked back. The acceptance and the engagement of Yellowknifers was there from the first night.”

The success is driven by the vendors, many of whom operate their businesses in addition to full-time day jobs. Here are four mainstays who have been selling since opening day.

Meagan Spence — The Cupcake Lady

How She Got Involved

Meagan went to the first vendors meeting to find out more about the idea and decided the market was definitely something she wanted to be involved in. Since starting her business three summers ago, she’s managed to grow the business.

“We really enjoy being out there every week and being involved with something that’s become such a big part of the community,” she says.

What’s for Sale

As her name implies, Spence sells a variety of cupcakes, all of which are baked from scratch. She also has other baked goods, such as buns, cinnamon buns and cheese buns. This year she has two booths, one with baking and anothe with baby items, blankets, other crafts. “It’s been a great opportunity to test the market for various products,” she says.

Most Popular Item

Cupcakes are most popular with the vegan chocolate — an egg-free, dairy-free dark chocolate cupcake — usually the first one to go. Given the range of baked goods on offer, what makes the cupcakes so popular? “I think that it’s just baking them from scratch, it gives them all their own flavour,” she says.

Favourite part of the market

“The business part is good, but for us, it’s just being able to be part of the community,” she says. “It’s nice to see the community come together in such a big way and nice to visit with people you haven’t seen in a while and we just love being a part of it.”

France Benoit — Le Refuge (The Shelter)

How she became involved

France saw the market as a way to help solve of food security in Yellowknife. After seeing pictures of empty Whitehorse grocery store shelves after a flood wiped out the Dempster Highway, she began to grow more food and now practices small-scale agriculture at her house on the Ingraham Trail. “You always feel that I’m so small, I don’t have a lot of space,” she says of the local challenges. “And yes, I’m only going to make a dent, but if a lot of people make dents, then maybe we can start tackling the problem.”

What’s for Sale

A large selection of produce throughout the season. Things start with her indoor greenhouse in April and by the June 2 market, France had fresh radishes, lettuce and spicy greens. A few weeks later there were beans and peas. Cole slaw’s the thing now and there will be potatoes and carrots toward the end of the season.

Oh, and cheese! After going to Quebec to take a course, France now makes a variety of cheeses with pasteurized milk that she’s legally permitted to sell at the market. Some of the types of cheese include feta, cream cheese, mascarpone and ricotta. Her offerings are split evenly in  fresh produce, cheese and quiche.

On a busy week, her business can provide as much as three quarters of her income. “What I’m aiming for is to have value-added products,” she says. “That way I make a bit more money than if I sold the raw materials.”

Most Popular Item

Feta cheese and the seasonal produce.

Favourite part of the market

“The interaction with the people and the sparks in their eyes when they see the selection of produce that I have and people say ‘oh my god, I didn’t realize we could grow this food here.’”

“You don’t need a lot of space to be able to do this,” she tells those interested in replicating her success. “I think it’s an issue of choosing high-value crops.”

For example, potatoes are already cheap and take a long time to mature, which means it’s unlikely you’ll make money by planting a few boxes of them. “But if you have beans that constantly reproduce and, to an extent, lettuce, that may make more sense.” Perhaps most importantly, “we have to work with what we have here and what I have is sheer bedrock, uneven ground, and I make due.”

Toni Enns — Fresh Yummy Salsa

How she became involved

The market started and somebody said you should check it out, so she did. She’d owned a Mexican restaurant in the ‘90s and had “started making it just on the side,” she says of the salsa. “Next thing you know people were making a batch for gifts and Christmas presents.”

During the first market summer, she started out making 40 containers of salsa, then increased to 60. This year, she’s making no fewer than 100 and sells out every week!

“I like to keep them salsa hungry, but I also hate to turn them away,” she says. To make up for mising out, Toni holds back a bit and offers those who miss out a delicious scoop or two on the spot.

What’s for Sale

Toni’s kept it simple and offered her delicious fresh salsa since day one. She’s recently been experimenting with offering guacamole but the finicky nature of mass ripening the fruit in YK poses challenges. “Everyone wants it,” she says. “But it’s a testy one up here because of the avacadoes.”

The name of her business came from inquiring customers: “People would come to me and say ‘got any of that Fresh, Yummy Salsa?”

Most Popular Item

The Fresh, Yummy Salsa, of course. Some people ask for modifications that she originally didn’t think would taste the same. Turns out, no matter how you make it, it’s pretty delicious. She makes it by hand with no electricity, and “I always tell people to treat it like an apple pie or fresh load of bread in that it will last about a week,” she says. “But once you take the lid off, it’s usually instantly gone!”

Favourite part of the market

“My favourite part is all the unique sober people,” says Toni, also works at a local night club. “That’s not what I deal with all the time and when I get to the market, I just meet so many people, new people, old people, faces I haven’t seen in a long time. I just love it. I’m in my element when I’m at the market, as my husband would say.”

“I just want to have fun with it, but I’m looking at growing it a bit,” she says. “One day maybe Yellowknife will have a fantastic Mexican restaurant.”

Prem and Krish Manickum — Prem’s Exotic Cuisine

How they became involved

Already well established through serving at Yellowknife events such as Folk on the Rocks and the now-defunct Raven Mad Daze, the couple heard about the market and “Prem was keen to get involved and we have had a successful run so far,” Krish says. “We have to be grateful to the farmers market for giving us the opportunity to expose our business.”

What’s for Sale

The menu varies, but it’s always a mix of delicious Indian food, such as butter chicken, lamb biryani to beef or mixed vegetable curry, beef vindaloo and Prem’s always popular samosas! As proof of their popularity, a company once ordered 1,000 samosas for a corporate function.

The couple lived in South Africa for many years before immigrating to Canada 30 years ago. “Prem’s cooking is a mix of South African, Indian and her own inventive formula. She does a lot of work experimenting,” Krish says. “One of the things on our signage caption is south african, east indian, fusion foods.”

Most Popular Item

It’s a tie between samosas as an appetizer and butter chicken and rice as the main course. “People come to have their dinner at the park or take it home and enjoy it,” he says.

Favourite part of the market

“Interacting with the people and the exposure that Prem’s foods get,” Krish says. “There’s a great community spirit that prevails and we like that. People come specifically to the market looking for things and then they discover things.”

“And then you have fresh fish. Well-known fishing outlets are presented there and then there’s arts and crafts and preserved bottles and jams. And then you have special health drinks. There’s a wide variety of things that are made available to the community and it’s amazing,” he says.

A restaurant is not in the cards at the moment, but the couple try to fill as many catering orders as possible. With a licenced kitchen and well-established catering business, Krish says his wife Prem “is the kingpin of the business.” Catering orders can be made by emailing or or calling 873-4948.

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