STANLEY BRIDGE – It’s a beautiful sunny day in Stanley Bridge and a rainbow of coloured light is shining down on Geraldine Ysselstein’s table of goodies.
Her setup, complete with checkered picknick tablecloth, sits in front of a huge, stained glass window depicting the biblical story of the good shepherd.
Bouquets of flowers and herbs, garlic, onions, carrots and a host of other fresh produce from her market garden, called White Gables at Hope River, are arranged before her.
The sun pouring through the window behind her forms unknowable jumbles of colour on the Stanley Bridge Centre’s new floor.
Ysselstein is one of about half a dozen vendors at a new farmer’s market that’s recently taken up residence at the centre, which used to be the Stanley Bridge United Church. The building was decommissioned as a place of worship in 2008.
Ysselstein, who lives nearby, admits that she was skeptical about the market idea at first, but is now glad she decided to get onboard.
“The facilities are lovely,” she said on this particular Wednesday morning.
“The organizers are really dedicated to this. They show up every time, they make sure you’re comfortable and have everything you need.
Two of those organizers are Astrid Dimond and her husband Steve.
The Dimonds are originally from Vancouver but recently transplanted themselves to P.E.I. in their most recent attempt at retirement.
He worked in heavy industry while she worked in health and safety.
They got involved in the centre earlier this year when they were invited to sit in on a meeting of the Stanley Bridge Memorial Society, which owns the church.
The society has been raising money in recent years to fix up the old church with an eye towards turning it into a history and community centre.
The Dimonds were asked to take the lead on the farmer’s market plan and quickly got the ball rolling.
Step one was just getting the doors open, said Astrid, as the building had been almost completely unused since it was decommissioned.
“I said let’s get it opened up, let the community in. And the best way to get a community together is food,” she said.
The market has been open for about a month, opening each Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They also recently started opening on Saturdays during the same hours.
The Dimonds estimate that between 300 and 400 people filter through the market on any given day, and more come each week as word spreads about the market.
Any money made by the centre is put back into its own building fund.
There are plans afoot to eventually add a deck, basement and running water to the building.
That last item in particular has held back many of their plans, said Steve, but they’re slowly working towards their goals.
“We’re like a racehorse sitting in the gate and the gate’s locked,” he said.
“The building is certainly tired, but we want to give it a new life, that’s the bottom line. Every little bit contributes.”
For vendors like Ysselstein, the space offers an alternative to the more established markets in Summerside and Charlottetown.
There’s a steady stream of customers in Stanley Bridge, she said, as opposed to the busy throngs that can sometimes make larger markets crowded and uncomfortable.
You can take your time and get to know people a little better, which not only builds loyal customers, but also community, she said.
“It’s an excellent way for people who don’t produce to get to know the producers,” she said.
“I think these kind of small businesses are the way to go for P.E.I. because there isn’t always employment, so if people can be self starters and have income generating projects, that’s a good way to keep people here.”
The project is also something a little extra for visitors to the area.
Folks like seasonal resident Julia Held, who’s from Rhode Island.
“It’s beautiful, just beautiful, couldn’t be better,” said Held of the location and the old church.
“A lot of old churches are shutting down but it’s great that they get new life rather than just going the way of so many old buildings.
“It’s wonderful that they can live on for other uses,” she said.