Summer weather brings great things to Alberta, one of those things being farmers’ markets. There isn’t much better than waking up early on a Saturday morning and driving down to a market for some of the best and fresh in produce, apparel, baked goods, homeware and gourmet items.
Why go to an anonymous supermarket when you can instead get local products from a business you can put a face to? Public farmers’ markets have a storied history in Alberta, with many dating back forty years or earlier. Plenty of parents and grandparents have fond memories of visiting a local farmers’ market and investing support in local vendors and farms. Many years later, that philosophy and practice is alive and thriving in Alberta. The numbers don’t lie; the number of markets in the province has exploded in just under a decade. More than ever, Albertans are spending their time at farmers’ markets and ‘eat local’ has transformed from a phrase to a way of life for many.
“Most people work 9-5. Us farmers work 5-9.” said Elna Edgar of Edgar Farms. She’s been attending farmers’ markets for Edgar Farms since 1990, providing produce such as asparagus, peas, beans and more directly to consumers. Markets are at the heart of communities and this goes double for small towns and hamlets. Central Alberta is home to plenty of these small communities, a rich farming land with a blossoming scene of vendors, farms and greenhouses that benefit greatly from the temperate climate, giving local farmers an advantage. We complain about cold weather but for these farmers, that’s exactly what gives their produce their flavour.
“Our soil and cool nights really make our produce taste good.” Daniel Chapelle of Country Thyme Farms says. “What we’re really are able to do is grow such a superior product cause of those cold nights. We have sweet carrots, tasty greens that don’t get bitter from hot nights.”
Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
What exactly does buying local mean? It’s a philosophy of supporting the communities you work and live in with the idea that everyone contributes to create a thriving alternative system that’s down to earth. With farmers’ markets, buying local is incredibly crucial. How else are you going to get region-specific items and produce that isn’t watered down? We’ll break it down even further with two reasons explaining why buying local is great for both you and for vendors.
- You’re getting quality. Guaranteed. The climate in Central Alberta, being close to the mountains, gives produce quite the edge. We talked to a few vendors and farmers and this was brought up as a major advantage when put next to wholesale vendors and corporations who can get their produce and items in grocery stores but with a notable dip in quality. Shelley Sauter of Sunshine Blends, an Innisfail business with their own spin on cold pressed juices, kombucha, smoothies and more, was confident enough to suggest doing a Coke and Pepsi-style blind taste test with Sunshine Blends and any commercial kombucha brewer. “Anytime I’ve had people say to me ‘Oh, I’ve tried kombucha, it’s disgusting’” she says. “And they taste ours and they can’t believe the difference. So it’s like people getting an opinion but if they haven’t tried a bunch of different brands, they don’t realize it’s like trying Lululemon versus going to Walmart – you get what you paid for.”
- Supporting local means investing in your local communities.
Doef’s Greenhouses, a year-round greenhouse based out of Lacombe, has deep roots to the region. Helen Doef, who started the greenhouse alongside her husband forty-six years ago, was born in Lacombe and recalls a grocery store named The Tomboy that was incredibly supportive of Doef’s Greenhouses in its early days and accepted shipments of produce on a regular basis. Every farmer or vendor working in Central Alberta likely has a similar story – especially at farmers’ markets where close contact can be the start of a long-lasting relationship. There’s a direct eye-to-eye connection being made when you’re buying at a farmers’ market and that money you hand over doesn’t just take care of their farming and harvesting costs, but the food that goes on their tables and their lives.
“A lot of friendships I’ve made over the years were someone I met who was a vendor next to my booth.” Chapelle says. “We just keep in touch over the years. It really builds a lot of networks.”
Know Your Central Alberta Markets
Central Alberta is home to over twelve farmers’ markets mostly operating during the summer months, although there are a few year-round and fall markets to keep note of. Most vendors, farms and greenhouses go to as many as they can. For some farmers like Doef, it’s thrilling to see those connections and friendships grow over time.
“We have seen families grow up. We have seen moms and dads coming with their young children and we see them grow up over the years and those children start coming to the markets.” She says. “We hear their stories, we don’t always know them by first name but we hear their stories.”
For others, it’s a great way to stay accessible to the people who buy their products.
“Know that we’re really passionate about the food that we’re growing.” Chappelle says. “Don’t be afraid to ask us questions about our farm and how we farm. We’re typically really happy to talk about it. It’s the kind of thing that makes our faces light up. We’re really passionate about what we do. We understand that our livelihoods are dependent on the people who come to see us at the markets.”
Now that you’ve learned about some of the local producers, it’s time to meet them in person…
Feature Image Photo Credit: Travel Alberta / Curtis Comeau
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