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St. Albert, Sturgeon County celebrate local food and open farms

Local Food Week is Aug. 11 to 18
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Cathy Spicer of Prairie Gardens holds up a plump strawberry at the adventure farm on Thursday. Farmers across Alberta are celebrating local farms and food this week as part of Local Food Week, which coincides with Open Farm Days on Aug. 17 and 18. Prairie Gardens is participating in both, and has a variety of free and paid activities planned to show guests the wonders of local food.

Bees, big dinners and a boat are all on tap this week as Alberta farmers team up to celebrate local food.

Aug. 11 to 18 is Local Food Week in Alberta, which wraps up with Open Farm Days on Aug. 17 and 18. These province-wide events are meant to promote local farms and farmers markets.

Alberta Farmers’ Market Association president Dan Young said the overlap was intentional, as many local farmers participate in farmers markets. Alberta now has some 140 registered farmers markets and about 42 of them will have barbecues, chef-led tours and other activities to celebrate local food this week.

The St. Albert Farmers’ Market is hosting a honeybee day on Aug. 17 as part of Local Food Week to promote the links between bees and local food, said St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce president Jennifer McCurdy. Guests will get to go on a scavenger hunt for bees hidden throughout the market, with the first 40 families to finish it winning a bee hotel. Visitors will also get to hear talks on backyard bees, view beeswax art and take home free wildflower seeds.

Tam Andersen said she and Prairie Gardens near Bon Accord are taking part in Local Food Week for the first time this year. They’ve been busy: they hosted a long-table dinner last Sunday and a cooking class with Get Cooking Edmonton Tuesday, and have two more on-farm dinners planned for this coming Friday and Sunday.

Andersen would also join about 100 other Alberta farms and breweries this weekend by offering free admission for Open Farm Days. Guests who come to her farm Sunday can check out sunflower and corn mazes, ride a wagon tricked out like a boat (she called it a “prairie schooner”), and cook a traditional Mexican taco over a fire, the ingredients for which were grown on the farm.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase what we grow here in Alberta,” Anderson said of Local Food Week, and to help kids reconnect with agriculture.

“What they’re always amazed at is how good things taste when they’re fresh from the earth.”

Local food is big business, with the St. Albert Farmers’ Market drawing up to 15,000 people on summer weekends and restaurants like XIX Nineteen and Riverbank Bistro promoting their use of local ingredients, McCurdy said. The province reported this week that local food sales through outlets like farmers markets had more than doubled since 2008 and exceeded $1 billion last year.

“In this day and age, people are very conscious of what they are consuming,” McCurdy said, and farmers markets let you ask producers directly how they make their eggs and vegetables.

Challenging season

Extensive rains this season have bogged many farmers down in the mud and caused delays in crop production, which has affected what’s been available at farmers markets, said Young and McCurdy.

Anderson said her farm has received 15 inches of rain so far, which is way more than her crops need all year.

“Oh my, it has been challenging this season!” she said.

Anderson said many of the low spots on her farm are starting to drown out, and that kids at the farm have no shortage of mud puddles to splash in. Her strawberries are about two weeks behind, which is why the U-pick garden will be open for Open Farm Days (strawberry season is normally done by this week), and she’s not sure if her corn will mature before the fall frost. On the bright side, the lettuce and cabbage are doing great, as are any plants on high ground.

Young said residents can support local farmers by shopping at farmers markets and encouraging restaurants to use local ingredients.

Check www.albertafarmersmarket.com/markets/local-food-week and albertafarmdays.ca for a full list of Local Food Week and Open Farm Days events.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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