“Local” is a powerful word in Edmonton. The campaign to support homegrown content and foster domestic talent is often so intense the sense of civic pride can be overbearing. And the city’s interest in farmers’ markets is the latest trend to catch fire.
With 15 outdoor markets operating throughout the summer, and more popping up every year, support for local food and craft producers delivering their wares directly to customers has never been more fervent. The majority of the markets are grassroots community endeavours directed by volunteers, and while new ones continue to pop up, the not-for-profit focus of the markets makes sprouting establishments into potential collaborators rather than competitors.
The Southwest Farmers’ Market is one of the newer markets on the scene, beginning a little more than a year ago. After members of the southwest communities of Aspen Gardens and Riverbend realized they were both trying to organize markets, given their close proximity, it made more sense to establish a collaborative market serving a wide range of southwest communities. Operating in the Terwillegar neighbourhood, the market serves nine different communities with 40 vendors each week.
Over the phone, Southwest Farmers’ Market manager Zita Dube-Lockhart explains the market’s genesis is just another step in making local farmers’ market fare accessible to more of the city. For many, the weekly stop at the neighbourhood supermarket chain just doesn’t cut it anymore: while grocery stores have been pushing to make organic produce a priority in recent years, they don’t compare to a gathering of local producers with their wares for sale under an open sky — more and more communities are interested in cutting out the middleman.
“The issue with the great big markets we have — City Centre, St. Albert and Strathcona — is that they are extremely beneficial to our community and they are the staples of the farmers’ market community, but they cater to huge conglomerates and can’t possibly serve the needs of the entire city,” Dube-Lockhart explains. “With the growing local food demand — the growing demand for organic, handmade and hand-processed items — a lot of communities are saying, ‘We need to bring this to us.’ ”
As new markets continue to spring up, they take on their own unique personality as a response to the community they serve. While people who participate in farmers’ markets tend to value local products in a similar way, each individual market goes about providing them differently.
“Every market seems to have its own feel that draws people to it,” Dube-Lockhart points out, adding the market’s location in the developing southwest corner of the city means the attendees are primarily young families. Parents, she says, are interested in access to different ways to provide for their children, and the organic produce and locally-processed meat found at the market is very appealing.
“Young parents are looking for healthy food options for their children — it’s a big part of why I got involved to begin with,” she explains as her own child babbles in the background. “We have worked hard to build that community engagement and family focus.”
While it’s a newer establishment, the Southwest Farmers’ Market caters to more traditional demands for market products, with family at the centre of their community building efforts. But certain markets also have an increasingly youthful appeal: the latest Edmonton farmers’ market, the 124 Street Grand Market, features more unconventional vendors than the typical organic farm produce, like a doughnut stand and a shop with handmade bow accessories. And the City Market Downtown, while the longest-running farmers’ market in Edmonton, has an increasingly trendy appeal with its location on 104 street downtown.
Established in 1903, the market has occupied a number of locations over the years, but its downtown presence has contributed to the development and revitalization process of the city’s core, attracting businesses and residences to the now busy, pedestrian-friendly street.
Dieter Kuhlmann, chair of the City Market’s Board of Directors, has been involved in the farmers’ market community for 30 years. Kuhlmann comes from a farming family that grows produce they sell at farmers’ markets, and he’s witnessed their growth in the city as a vendor, consumer and organizer.
“The whole trend is ‘back to basics,’ and people want to buy local, direct from the producer where possible,” he says of the benefits of markets. “An outdoor market like (the City Market) has a real special ambiance — you cannot duplicate that in a building.
“Any time you can connect with the actual producer of whatever it is — whether it’s handmade linens, jewelry or fresh produce — that’s always an exciting thing,” he adds.
For Kuhlmann, farmers’ markets are also an opportunity to educate people about the importance of maintaining the natural environment around their community, providing tangible proof of the benefits of preserving the farmland that provides the locally-grown products at the market.
“What is happening is there’s now a ploy underway to have a city-wide food and agriculture policy. I’m hoping that endeavour will mean they’re going to protect some of the valuable farmland that is still available at the edges of the city, like here in our northeast area there’s a very big area of wonderful farmland we would like to see stay,” Kuhlmann explains. “It’s so good for the citizens of Edmonton to have a resource like that in their back pocket.
“If you were to live out here in the northeast, and you had farmers’ markets and farms that had vegetables right next to you, wouldn’t that be nice if you could just get on your bike and drive down the road and get fresh produce?”
From the newly-established to those with a century of history, markets, as Kuhlmann says, are “here to stay.” And while they all have a slightly different feel and attitude, the underlying community that supports farmers’ markets is unified in their quest to use Edmonton’s own local resources to make the city even better.
“Cities the size of Edmonton get to be what they are because of the amenities they can offer,” Kuhlmann concludes. “Vibrant farmers’ markets are a real amenity.”
Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market
10310 83 Ave.
Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.
City Market Downtown
104 Street between 101 Avenue and 103 Avenue
Saturdays, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Indoors at City Hall (Sir Winston Churchill Square) from October to May
Baseline Farmers’ Market
390 Baseline Road, Sherwood Park
Wednesdays, 4 - 8 p.m.
Callingwood Farmers’ Market
69 Avenue and 178 Street
Sundays 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Wednesdays 2 - 6 p.m.
Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market
9210 118 Ave.
Thursdays 5 - 8 p.m.
Beverly Towne Farmers’ Market
40 Street and 118 Avenue
Tuesdays, 4 - 8 p.m.
Capilano Shopping Centre Farmers’ Market
5004 98 Ave.
Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Castledowns Farmers’ Market
10811 146 Ave.
Wednesdays, 4 - 8 p.m.
Millwoods Farmers’ Market
28 Avenue and 72 Street
Thursdays, 5 - 8 p.m.
111 Avenue and Groat Road
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
South Common Farmers’ Market
151 Karl Clark Rd
Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
2019 Leger Rd
Wednesdays, 4:30 - 7:30 p.m.
St. Albert Farmers’ Market
St. Anne and St. Thomas Streets, St. Albert
Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Summerside Farmers’ Market
1720 88 St.
Mondays, 4 - 8:30 p.m.
Sherwood Park Farmers’ Market
100 Festival Way, Sherwood Park
Wednesdays, 5 - 8 p.m.
124 Street Grand Market
108 Ave & 124 Street
Thursdays, 5 - 9 p.m.
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