Locally grown fare in abundance from Alberta farmers

Calgarians know how to capitalize on warm sunny days. The volatile weather and short summers entice us to cram in as much short wearing trail jogging and patio pints as possible. Calgary’s food community also takes advantage of the short season via farmers’ markets which are now ramping up to provide citizens with the best Alberta has to offer during these warmer periods.

Three major markets operate year-round augmented by a number of seasonal farmers’ markets that open from late spring to early autumn in various neighbourhoods.

Alberta’s farmers are very good at what they do — they know how to produce top-quality products. But what some lack is a compelling story about their wares. Established markets like the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Kingsland Farmers’ Market utilize their networks of experienced vendors seasoned staff and dedicated organizers to help producers create relationships between their products and their customers.

“When people get connected to the idea of where their food comes from — that it doesn’t always come in a can — they can have a relationship with the producer the baker or the maker” says Trond Frantzen marketing director at Kingsland Farmers’ Market. “That [trust] becomes important.”

The increased instances of warnings and/or recalls related to industrially produced foods have driven more people to seek local producers. In the first four months of 2012 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued over 45 health hazard and allergy alerts and at least 41 of those involved mass-produced foods. The ability to interact with producers — posing questions on how a product was made how the animal was reared or how it was brought to market — allows customers to regain trust that the food they are putting on their tables is not only healthy and safe but also nutritious and enjoyable.

Another benefit of these markets is the diverse number of local items displayed. Too often Alberta is synonymous with beef wheat and canola. Yet vanilla beans are grown outside of Red Deer six types of artisanal goat cheese are produced two hours north of Edmonton in Smoky Lake and award-winning fruit wines are produced on a 50-acre plot outside Strathmore.

Since this scale of production is not sufficient to meet the demands of chain supermarkets many Calgarians don’t even know that these products exist — that we have the opportunity to purchase from local sources instead of shipping food in. Farmers’ markets play a crucial role in exposing new products suited to local tastes and providing a fresh alternative as well as allowing us to support the local economy.

Quality ingredients are only the first step towards the creation of a great meal however. Cooking may be a pleasure but it can be daunting and failure can render expensive ingredients inedible. To ensure people are getting the most out of their food local markets are partnering with a new breed of chefs who are using technology and social media to interact and demonstrate to their customers that creating enjoyable meals for family and friends doesn’t require years of culinary training. Local writer and former chef Jay del Corro conducts live cooking demonstrations over the Internet utilizing ingredients purchased from local markets. His efforts have earned him a place in YouTube’s Next Chef program.

These markets aren’t just about the ingredients or buying organic. They are vehicles for farmers producers and consumers to come together and develop a community based around understanding and utilizing food in the most effective efficient and pleasurable way.