Grande Prairie farmers' market rallies for struggling vendor

Vendors at a farmers' market in Grande Prairie are pulling together to support a local artist whose hands are too shaky to draw or paint following emergency heart surgery.

'We're all there for him and try to give him a hand, and all he has to do is ask and we will help him'

Open heart surgery caused nerve damage in artist Calvin Cornish's arms and hands, leaving them too shaky for him to earn a living with his artwork. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Calvin Cornish used to spend up to eight hours a day crouched over the artwork he sells at the farmers' market in Grande Prairie, Alta.

But complications from emergency heart surgery in December damaged the nerves in his arms and hands, leaving them too stiff and shaky to hold a pencil or paintbrush for more than an hour at a time.

"You know that's what you're supposed to do with your life, and it's kind of depressing when you can't do it anymore," Cornish said.

The bills started piling up and Cornish, a full-time artist, said he now teeters on bankruptcy. He can create only a fraction of the artwork he used to and said he has lost roughly 75 per cent of his income as a result.

"You're in despair. You're not sure how you're going to make ends meet."

Calvin Cornish has sold his artwork at the Grande Prairie farmer's market since 1999. (Zoe Todd/CBC)
Calvin Cornish says he didn't know about the fundraiser until he heard about it on the radio. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

When his fellow market vendors found out, they pulled together to organize a fundraiser to help Cornish focus on his recovery.

"We decided we needed to help," said Anita Farnsworth, who organized the event. "It's been amazing how our community has come together, our family at the farmers' market."

'We're all there for him'

The fundraiser will include silent and live auctions, featuring mostly homemade and homegrown items from the market.

"When we can all pull together and do something for our vendors when they need the help, that's what it's all about," said Ali Floen, who contributed a hand-carved bridge-playing board from her booth.

Doug Handspiker, a retired auctioneer who sells honey and meat at the market, volunteered to run the live auction.

"He wasn't doing good anyway but this put him way, way in the hole," Handspiker said. "We're all there for him and try to give him a hand, and all he has to do is ask and we will help him."

It gives you a second chance at thinking that maybe things are going to be alright.- Calvin Cornish, artist

Cornish said he found out about the fundraiser when he heard a promotion for the event on a local radio station.

"For them to take the time to do that for me, it gives you hope and it gives you a chance that maybe things are going to turn around," he said.

"It's made a world of difference ... it gives you a second chance at thinking that maybe things are going to be alright."

The fundraiser is planned for the evening of March 23 at the JP Outpost Fusion Grill & Bar in Clairmont, near Grande Prairie.



Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Alberta, filing videos and stories for web, radio and TV.