The Cochrane Famers' Market will be returning to the parking lot of the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre (SLSFSC) for 2021.

Valerie McCracken says while the location doesn't have the same vibe as offered by the Cochrane Ranche, it holds its own benefits of plenty of parking, improved pathway accessibility, and is in proximity to the Bow River.

Most importantly, it has enabled the market to main its primary goal of helping local food producers retain access to a critical market.

"I'm sure Drew Hyndman was tired of me impressing upon him how important it was for the market to go-ahead because it is about food security and our local food chains and all our local producers and their reliance on markets," she says, pointing out Hyndman was extremely helpful.

"When you've touched the point of having a market that has several vendors that really do have it as one of their primary markets, you can't just say, 'Oh, well, we're just not going to do it this year'. There is that responsibility of ensuring that you've created that space for them and provided that continuity."

SLSFSC CEO Blair Felesky and his staff were quick to make the space available last season, and again this year. The centre already had a relationship established with the Farmers' Market that dates back a decade of annual Christmas market. McCracken says it aligns with the centre's ambition to expand upon its role as a community hub.

While restrictions limited the number of vendors at the start of last season, midway through it was able to include arts and crafts and reached its typical 50 to 60 vendors.

Having to implement strict COVID-19 protocols also allowed organizers to keep an accurate count of the number of people coming to the market.

"We started around 1,000, and then every week it was going up, up, up. We had as many as 2,600 visitors during the peak at the end of the season as more people became familiar with our location."

"Around 400-425 was the top we ever had at one time in the market. Because it was so big and so wide, there was no issue with physical distancing. There was lots of space."

She said the new location also saw more families walking and biking to the market because of its link to the town's pathway system.

"It's not as easy to reach from the north but definitely we had families who had never been able to walk to the market before, and who loved the fact that it was on their side of town."

That's expected to increase with the opening of the Jack Tennant Memorial Bridge.

Additionally, the market opened a half-hour early for seniors and a half-hour later.

"The extra time definitely allowed people to get there and do their shopping."

When the market opens in the spring, McCracken says they anticipate offering a full complement of vendors.

"This year, unless they change the restrictions, we will start with being able to include all of our vendors and looking at the potential of increasing the number of vendors from the get-go."