The Alberta government passed the Local Food Sector Act to encourage consumer confidence and raise the profile of producers, resulting in farmers markets becoming the big focus for supporting local growers and companies. Visiting the Crossroads Market and the Calgary Farmers Market, these are the stories behind a few of the vendors.
Field Stone Fruit Wines - Calgary Farmers Market
The beginning of Field Stone started with Lyndon Gill and his brother Marvin driving around the Okanagan and finding a fruit winery where the owner suggested they should start their own.
“That’s all my brother needed to hear,” said Lyndon Gill. “We planted the bushes 17 years ago. We have thousands of Saskatoon, raspberries, wild black cherries and strawberries that we grow on 50 acres of land out of Strathmore.”
Field Stone Fruit Wines has now been in business for 13 years with five fruit wines and five dessert wines featured year-round.
“Generally speaking, we make wine when we run out of a batch. We try to gauge it so that we’re making the wine during the winter time, so that’s not in our busy season, but if we run out of something or run short of something, we’ll batch it in the summer,” said Lyndon.
The farmers market was the right choice in their eyes because of the community support and constant traffic.
“Well, there’s 20,000 people coming through the door every weekend here, so you’ve got an instant, ready-made traffic.”
However, since the company runs in a few markets across the province, they’ve seen more support in other cities.
“In Edmonton, people are super supportive of local and farmers markets, not so much in Calgary — we’ve noticed a difference since we do markets all over the province,” said Lyndon. “We still get support at farmers markets otherwise we wouldn't do it, but I would say there’s more support for local growers in the Edmonton market.”
Luc's European Meats - Crossroads Market & the Calgary Farmers Market
A family-run traditional style, European-cured meats and cheese shop, this family has been working in cured meats for generations and focusing on selling locally.
“Who actually makes these products is my father-in-law, 77 years old and he’s been butchering since he was nine,” said Bruce Alle, whose son convinced him to open a shop in the Calgary Farmers Market.
“He was working with his grandpa, four years ago and he said, ‘Dad we really need to open up a market here in the west,’ and I first told him no, and he wore me down, as kids do.”
With the entire family working in the business, Alle finds the market to be becoming more trendy, and the great atmosphere at the market is what brings people in.
“The people come here for an experience. When they come here for an experience we try to facilitate that with a good product and great service. So everyone’s upbeat and it’s a great atmosphere to work in.”
Market Seafood & Unique Speciality Meats - Calgary Farmers Market
Starting from a seafood business in 2008 on Macleod Trail, chef Ryan Plunkett and his wife, Mary, opened in the Currie Barracks Farmers Market, and then transferred to the Calgary Farmers Market in 2011.
“My husband saw the potential in the market, you think about it, people come to the market, so if you’re here and you have a good product, and you look after your customers, you’re going to do well,” said Mary.
A chef for country clubs, restaurants and even teaching at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) for a short while, Plunkett has a lot of experience.
“We had our own restaurant for a little while, and now we’re in the fish business. Right now we’re just here, we do not have our store on Macleod Trail anymore,” said Mary. “We love it here. People come to the market and we’re just ready to go when they come.”
Since Market Seafood products come from the East and West Coasts, and their tuna and swordfish from Hawaii, the couple always has a chef around to give suggestions for dinner.
“There’s always a chef here to tell you how to cook it and we have recipes that we give to people and I think that’s the beauty of it. We can tell people how to work with the product,” said Mary.
Silver Sage Beef - Calgary Farmers Market
Building on the concept for a very farm-to-table shop, the 100-year Zentner family ranch supplies beef for their shop. Raised with no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-raised for the majority of their life, and finished on barley, Silver Sage beef comes from a southwest part of Saskatchewan.
“We chose to come to [the] farmers market because we wanted to do something a little bit different. So essentially it wasn’t a commodity beef or something that would hit kind of a public market, and we essentially really wanted to bring our product to I guess a niche market,” said Kent Zentner, marketing manager of Silver Sage.
Being raised on the family farm, Zentner feels very comfortable with running the operation and seeing the consumers’ perspective of buying from someone who “directly handles the product that they’re going to purchase.”
“If you remember a few years ago there was a big E. coli break out at the plant in Brooks, and at that time a lot of people realized how much control they kind of had over the industry. So, it opened consumers’ eyes to asking questions about where your animals are coming from, how are they processed, how are they slaughtered, what’s the ethical standpoint kind of behind it, and a lot of people changed their way about eating.”
Enjoying the opportunity to see customers change their way of eating, Zentner said it’s the right kind of environment and the in-season fresh foods that they really enjoy.
“Everything on your table could come from the market.”
Flowers of the market - Calgary Farmers Market
Coming over from Denmark at the age of 15, Kirsten Ottosen had always known she wanted to work with flowers.
“I basically didn’t like my job. I was cooking for a long time, and I always wanted to work with flowers, so I took all the courses and one day we decided it was time to open a shop,” said Ottosen.
That chance came four years ago when Ottosen took over another flower shop stall.
“I noticed that the other lady was leaving so I quickly jumped and said, ‘Hey this is mine now!’”
Ottosen made the change to the farmers market since she wanted more customer interaction and community.
“Because I love just looking at people, talking to people, you have a lot of people coming by. I was in a free-standing shop before, and it got to be a bit lonely. You only had the designers to talk to.”
Specializing in flowers from British Columbia, Ottosen’s flowers come from a growers’ auction. Ottosen said this allows the shop to keep the prices low by cutting out the middleman, and it also means the flower selection varies each week.
“I keep my prices low. I want to have a big turnover, so I bring fresh flowers in and we turn them over in one week so we don’t hang onto them.”
Sickle's meats - Crossroads Market
Gerald Sickle is another farmers’ market stall owner with a butchering background and a life growing up on a ranch.
“It was something I could always count on. There’s something in farming that are always unpredictable, so this was something that worked for me so I stuck with it,” said Sickle.
Previously selling to wholesale, Sickle didn’t find the companies were fair when working with suppliers.
“Farmers markets to me save you from the big guy. When you’re working with wholesale, I used to sell to 450 stores at one time. I sold to the big guys. Here, I can use my brown butcher wrap, I don’t have to get fancy with my labelling, all that stuff works against you in the bigger system. So it’s forgiving here. People that come here, come here to shoot for the little guy, whereas out there, it’s not fair.”
Previously supplying winning food trucks, Sickle was disappointed when the bigger companies he was supplying wouldn’t include his company name.
“We won a pile of awards but my name couldn’t be put up. My truck won more awards than any truck at the Calgary Stampede.”
After working with stores and having to guarantee the sale or take his product back, Sickle decided it would work better to go it himself.
“Here I can afford to give away samples like there’s no tomorrow because I threw more away when I sold to the big guys, they’re full of tricks.”
Working in the year-round farmers market, Sickle still sees many people coming into the market just to walk around. “They don’t treat us or take us seriously at times.”
But, Sickle knows the environment is better. “The consumer gets more back then too, we give some pretty fair pricing commodities. It’s both ways, it’s better for the consumer and it's better for the person that’s delivering.”
- By Casey Richardson