Buying local in-season groceries

From markets to corner stores it’s easy to find regionally produced food

There are plenty of trends in foodie culture — flavoured vinegar green smoothies cronuts — but without a doubt the biggest movement to take over the world of food in the last decade is the move to embrace locally produced food. Whether it be restaurants that boast farm-to-table menus or shops that do their best to adhere to a 100-mile rule (i.e. all product must be grown within a hundred miles of the point of sale) locally grown and produced food has surpassed trend status to become a full-on lifestyle shift for gourmands around the world.

While the definition of “local” extends well beyond the 100-mile mark for most Calgary retailers (after all who would want to exclude B.C. cherries or peaches from their shopping basket in the summer?) Calgarians have embraced local food and the demand for homegrown produce has grown substantially over the years. Whether you’re looking for fresh heirloom tomatoes and organically grown carrots or want to support regional businesses that produce processed snacks or condiments it’s not that hard to find foodstuff produced right in our backyard.

Amanda Bonner director of marketing at the Calgary Farmers’ Market says that there are all kinds of reasons that people look to buy local beyond the obvious environmental benefits of buying a basket of berries that travels from a nearby farm rather than from South America.

“Number one is taste. No tomato that was picked seven days before it was ripe can compete with one that was picked five hours ago at the peak of perfection” Bonner says. “Also people understand their purchasing power and that when they buy local products they’re saying ‘I think Canadian farming is important and I want to support our food system.’”

So where do you buy this stuff? The answer is: pretty much anywhere. In fact you’re probably already filling your grocery cart with many Alberta products without even knowing it.

But of course for different people “local” can mean different things and many local food enthusiasts also favour organic fare and a wider variety of small-crop produce. If you fit into that category your first stop will likely be one of the city’s farmers’ markets be it a small seasonal community market or one of the big year-round markets.

Bonner says the Calgary Farmers’ Market prioritizes local produce trying to curate 80 per cent locally produced items throughout the venue. The Kingsland Crossroads and Symons Valley Ranch markets also host a wide variety of regional growers and vendors as do smaller community farmers’ markets that are open year-round including the Parkdale Farmers’ Market and an indoor version of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmers’ Market.

If the markets aren’t your thing but you’re looking for a similar standard of interesting often organic local produce meats baked goods and other items Calgary is also home to a number of independent and smaller-scale markets that specialize in food for the discerning shopper.

Community Natural Foods is one of the bigger players on the scene with four locations all pledging to sell food with “reduced food miles” (i.e. a relatively short distance from farm to store). Sunnyside Natural Market also openly advertises that its “priority is local and organic” and all of the store’s meat comes from Alberta. Market 17 Bridgeland Market Blush Lane and Amaranth are just some of the other well-known groceries that source locally as often as possible.

Or if you can’t be bothered to leave your house services like SPUD ( spud.ca ) will deliver boxes of produce to your home along with a receipt documenting just how far each item had to travel to get from the farm to your door.

But buying local doesn’t necessarily mean buying organic or small-batch. The kinds of regionally-produced foods you’ll find at supermarket chains may not have the same neo-hippie charm as what you’d buy at a farmer’s market or indie store but if your number one aim is to support the local food economy you can get more Alberta-made products than you may think and the stores are starting to get savvy enough to market local fare.

Calgary Co-op has partnered with an Edmonton-based initiative called Localize which identifies locally-produced food with recognizable labels and QR codes to further explain where the food comes from. Both Sobeys and Safeway have similar programs — Sobey’s posts “Western Canadian Grown” signage near local products and Safeway is the exclusive retail partner of the “Buy Alberta” program which was launched by the province and the Alberta Food Processors Association (the products are identified with labels right on the shelves next to the price tags).

While we may not be able to get absolutely every food product we want all year long by buying local there is definitely a momentum in the city that’s bringing more local food onto our tables and into our bellies. Bonner says business at the Calgary Farmers’ Market’s is constantly growing so we’re bound to see more and more shops jumping on the local bandwagon.

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in the traffic coming into our market” she says.

“People are asking more questions about their food. Before we may have just eaten any tomato that was given to us — now we want to know how it was grown and are really empowering ourselves to become educated.”