Inflation is at a 30-year high. There is sticker shock at the pumps and the price jump in consumer goods is making us blink.
But all this gloom and doom is helping farmers’ markets make a happy comeback. And there is every indication this summer may be a bonanza year for vendors.
Prior to the pandemic, St. Albert Farmers' Market attracted 15,000 to 20,000 visitors in a day. Shoppers were willing to socialize and spend a little more searching for fresh, locally-grown foods or unique handmade wares. Everything is traceable, and vendors are happy to pass on information, and in some cases, develop mutually fruitful business relationships.
As a result of loosening restrictions, applications for St. Albert Farmers’ Market booths have doubled in this past year for the regular gatherings on St. Anne Street.
Crystal Gossmann, manager of St. Albert Farmers’ Market, said the group will host 263 vendors, 16 food trucks, and five buskers each Saturday starting June 11. There are also 200 more vendors on a wait list.
“From what I gather, we’ve never had this many applicants,” said Gossman hypothesizing that COVID propelled a burst of creativity among food producers and crafters.
“During COVID everyone was home and people needed a hobby, and COVID brought out the hobbyist in people.”
By comparison, the 2021 market only showcased 180 booths.
“It was hard to plan last year. At the beginning of the year, we were only allowed a certain number of vendors. On July 1, everything opened up, and we had more spots. But the vendors couldn’t come. They had already committed to other places.”
Market organizers are restricting the vendor list to a set of criteria that prioritizes home-grown products from Alberta. Vendors are required to grow, make, or bake products they make themselves. This helps to promote farms and operators that specialize in locally-grown food. The only exceptions are truckloads of B.C. fruit.
In addition to offering baking, meat, meals, and preserves, the market features art, baby and kids products, clothing, home décor, jewelry, personal care items, plants and produce, wines, hard liquor, and beer.
Gossmann also encourages visitors to view the market as a cultural food experience.
“Jamaican Chef Man is back with his sauces. Taste of Ethiopia has prepared meals. There’s Olives & Garlic. And the Green Onion Cake Man is always popular. Thai Sab Food Company offers authentic Thai food. There’s Amazing Asian Dumplings and Bogota Street Food from Columbia is new. Theos Greek Cuisine is back and we have three Ukrainian food vendors.”
Since June 11 is the season launch, St. Albert Community Band’s 50-plus members will play crowd favourites. The jaw-dropping Viking Wood Splitters are also back splitting wood with a powerful swing of fire-forged swords.
“There’s really something for everybody — shoppers, kids, babies, foodies, pets. It’s the best place to shop local and find whatever you want.”
St. Albert Farmers’ Market sets up their tent city on St. Anne Street. It operates every Saturday from June 11 to Oct. 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parking is limited. However, a free park-and-ride shuttle will drive patrons from St. Albert Centre bus exchange on St. Albert Trail to Perron Street beside DJ’s Pizzeria. Masks must be worn. Buses run every 20 minutes.
Morinville Farmers’ Market
While St. Albert Farmers’ Market has yet to open, Morinville Farmers’ Market launched on Sunday, May 1.
“The first two Sundays it was very wet and cold, and we had to go inside at the Rendez-Vous Centre. A few die-hards stayed outside. Despite the cool temperatures, our customers are increasing rapidly. We have roughly 45 vendors and hope to have B.C. fruit in two weeks,” said market manager Christine Mercier.
Beauty products, sauces, pies, beef jerky, chicken, wings, liquor, plants, garden accessories, clothes, and pet foods are just some of the locally-made foods and products available. And just in time for hockey playoffs, Inspection Ready Woodworking is selling Oilers coasters.
“We had nearly 400 people last week and given that it was the May long weekend that's encouraging. Many families usually go camping or traveling. But I think with rising gas prices, many people cannot afford to go away.”
In contrast to the string of vendor applications, Mericer is having difficulty attracting food trucks to Morinville. So far the only one serving is BT’s Lunch Box from Westlock, which specializes in soups, paninis, and sandwiches.
“The price of gas has put off a lot of food trucks. I’ve reached out to 10 already, but they can earn more money in Edmonton. It’s very hard for everybody.”
Although small, the Morinville market is more flexible in its options compared to larger markets. For instance, on Canada Day (Friday, July 1), the market will be on the road at Edmonton Garrison selling at the Leisure Centre. This is the market’s second visit to the Garrison and judging from the last visit, Mercier estimates 3,000 shoppers will attend the event.
In another nimble move, the market will also run an extra spread on Saturday, June 18, as part of Morinville Festival Days.
“We like to try different things,” said Mercier. “Come and try the market. It’s a nice friendly atmosphere. Vendors are happy to talk about their products. There’s no hassle. You can shop in a relaxed way, talk to vendors about the products they sell, and they can tell you how best to care for what you buy.”
Morinville Farmers’ Market is located on 104th Street by the Rendez-Vous Centre. It runs every Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. until Oct. 12. Free parking is plentiful.