To Market, To Market

A new wave  of farmers’ markets gives locals and visitors more choice and amenities.

In an era of self-checkout grocery tills and the genetically modified dinner, thousands of Calgarians are breaking the mold, eagerly seeking out the faces, and often, the smiles, of those growing their food at their local farmers' markets.

“Farmers' markets give people a direct connection with the land, and an even greater connection to the people growing the vegetables and raising the animals,” says John Gilchrist, Calgary food critic and avid farmers' market supporter. “For city dwellers, that connection to the earth can be tremendous.”

Crossroads Market
Crossroads Market
And the city dwellers have responded by creating high demand—two year-round indoor farmers' markets have opened in less than a year. Plus, there's a slew of established outdoor markets open seasonally.

Alberta’s significant agriculture industry is often overshadowed by big-business oil, and it can be difficult to peer into our history as farmers and cattlemen where as a culture, our seeds were literally sewn.

“We’re traditionally a farming province—we see the fields and the barns all around us, but we can’t just walk up to the barn and ask to meet the cows,” says Gilchrist. “That’s where farmers’ markets come in. I love meeting the people, and being a farm-boy myself, it’s important to show the farmers that we support them.”

Pay a visit to one of Calgary’s two indoor farmers' markets or the Crossroads Market—if the noise level doesn’t immediately paint the picture, browse around for a while and it’ll soon become clear that people aren’t just here to shop.

“When you look back in history, everyone went to the market to get their produce and meet their neighbours, and people are just aching for that in the city these days,” says Ken Aylesworth, general manager of the Calgary Farmers’ Market (CFM), which just last month moved into its swank new 65,000-square-foot digs in the city’s southeast (510 – 77 Ave SE, Thur to Sun).

A number of Calgarians were dismayed to learn about the closure of the CFM in its old Currie Barracks location last December. The market had literally grown too big for its britches, both in terms of size and ambitions. Before the ground had been broken on its new Blackfoot and Heritage location, Aylesworth and his team were at the drawing board, busily recreating the idea of just what a farmers' market could be.

Despite some delays in construction and funding, the new CFM was well worth the wait. The facility itself is simply stunning. Overhead an ornate trellis system mimics a canopy of trees. In the food court, walls were knocked down to give a wide-open barn feel, while a 45-foot-high ceiling and expansive dormers allow natural light to pour in. The centrepiece is a giant fireplace, which encourages visitors to sit down and meet their neighbours.

There’s also a dedicated place for families, including one of the largest kids play areas in the city. As well, they’ve built a raised stage area to host cooking presentations and educational seminars.

Aylesworth is particularly proud of the market’s “farm gate” concept—a general store in the middle of the market, owned and operated by the CFM, that works with and buys organic wholesale from local producers who don’t have the ability to participate in the year-round market.

“So you can come in and get the little guy that sells his sausage in Rocky Mountain House at his gate and that’s the only place he sells it,” he says. The project advisor is Scott Pohorelic, former head chef at the River Café.

As far as food goes, the CFM has added 20 new vendors to the new location, some of which may be familiar to Calgarians. The Main Dish, a popular deli-style eatery run by Jason Zaran in the Bridgeland neighbourhood, has opened a marquee space in the market. Another famous name to Calgary, Dominique Moussu, will run an  offshoot of his popular French deli L’Epicerie.

The Calgary Farmers’ Market isn’t the only rodeo in town, the Kingsland Farmers’ Market opened the doors to its brand new indoor location on Macleod Trail last December (7711 Macleod Tr S, Thur to Sun).

Run by a former CFM vendor, Tim Hoven of Hoven Farms Organic Beef, the Kingsland Market is warm and welcoming with a constant hum of activity around the vendors. Bright produce pops with colour and the beautiful aromas of freshly baked bread, curries and even cookies lilt in the air.

Some of the anchor vendors include Lund’s Organic Farm, which sells crunchy, deliciously sweet carrots, and Broxburn Vegetables, which has Calgarians salivating at the thought of tomato season each year.

There’s also the Sugar Pie Bakery, run by Sarah Schaus who makes the wildly popular “pie on a stick,” in a variety of sweet and savoury flavours. Kingsland also boasts Calgary’s only Indonesian eatery, Kaffir Lime Indonesian Grill, which sells a number of curry style dishes and also offers takeaway curry packs so you can recreate their recipes at home. And of course, there’s Hoven’s organic beef, serving up some of Alberta’s tenderest steaks. Although the Kingsland Market is small, that's how Hoven likes it.

“It’s not a big, empty warehouse, it’s a thriving marketplace with a community feel,” he says. “So far the reception has been phenomenal.”

Calgarians take a lot of pride in finding their “own” little source of fine cheese, vine-ripened peppers or French baked goods—and they can be fiercely loyal.

Just look at the Crossroads Market, which has been in business for more than 20 years. Located in a 100,000-square-foot historic building in Inglewood, the market is a labyrinth of twists and turns, with pleasant surprises around every corner. The indoor market is a perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon sampling Ukrainian poppy seed rolls, and browsing through the flea market’s used books, records, toys, as well as handmade jewellery, moccasians and artwork from the vendors that have come from the far corners of the world.

“What makes Crossroads so unique is not only the diverseness of products, but also the multicultural aspect of the people involved,” says Matthew McDonald, manager at Crossroads Market. “We support people from many different nationalities by providing a facility where they can promote their business, sell their wares, and as well, share their stories.”

Of course, Calgary’s farmers’ markets are selling food—a vast, eclectic and delicious variety of it (just try and leave on an empty stomach). But it’s the stories, and the people, and inevitably, the smiles, that keep Calgarians coming back, week after week.

By Dan Leahul