Thursday, 28 February 2013

It Takes A Community to Make A Market Flourish

In ancient times, when man first gathered together and settled in the verdant valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (in present day Turkey and Iraq), civilizations developed around food. The only reason to settle and cease to be nomadic was to plant, raise and harvest food crops. Roots were put down, both literally and figuratively, and civilization as we know it today, was born.

Since ancient times, communities have gathered around food.

It nourishes us and it gives us reasons and opportunities to gather together, to connect, to unite and to socialize. Our lives are nourished by it and made richer for it in so many ways.

Crunchy, fresh cukes from Riverbend Gardens
& wonderfully fragrant dill ready to make pickles

When I first started going to farmers' markets, the idealist in me was simply there to get the best quality fruits and vegetables that I could find to feed my family very well, both from an aesthetic and a nutritional perspective. I zipped in and out with tremendous efficiency: it was, at that point in my life, simply a place of commerce. However, I now have a little more life experience behind me, and what I've come to realize both in my travels around the world and through my work behind the scenes with the Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market board, is that farmers' markets can be so much more:

  • A farmers' market can be a community gathering place. 
  • It can be a place where people meet, enhance, enjoy and support each other, be they farmers, producers, artists, craftsmen, shoppers, volunteers, organizers, community league directors, market planners or generous market sponsors. 
  • It can be a place for people to connect, not only with the people who run and support the market, but a place to connect with family, neighbours and friends. And strong connections are the foundation of a vibrant, healthy community.
  • It can be a place to support the local economy. 
  • It can be a place to enjoy a meal or a delicious snack with family and friends.
  • It can be a place to meet new people and have fun.
  • It can be a place to witness great beauty and inspiring artistry.
  • It can be a place to experiment and try new things, such as a new type of food, an unusual vegetable, an intriguing spice mix, a neat combination of foods from a food truck.
  • It can be a place to learn something new... whether it be an artist's perspective or perception of beauty, a new recipe, something that is offered in your community such as an event or a service that you didn't know existed, or a new way to combine and prepare foods.
  • And it can be a place to form strong connections with friends and neighbours, vendors and family, old and new.

They say, "It takes a community to raise a child." And while I have most definitely witnessed and participated in that wise, old saying, I also know that it takes a community to do a lot of truly amazing things.
There's no doubt about it: it takes a community to make a market flourish and for it to be successful. 
And our market is no exception. I have been humbled and amazed by the people who work behind the scenes well before market day or even market season, in order to bring you our wonderful local, community market. There are so many people, from the organizers, community league representatives and volunteers through to the individual vendors... the artists, crafstmen, food producers, chefs, farmers and growers... all working very hard and very creatively to make our third market season a rip roaring success.

Make coming to your community market a habit this year. Your life, and the lives of the people you care about, will be richer for the experience.

Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market runs every Wednesday from May 15th to October 2nd, 4:30-7:30pm. I really hope to meet you there!

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Monday, 25 February 2013

Embrace the Contrast! [a.k.a. Market Season Is Around The Corner]

The rolling, sun drenched hills of sunny California
Oh, to live in sunny California, where the growing season is perfect for fruits and vegetables to be harvested all year long! It is a place that embraces market culture. A place without the cold that we experience in the depths of winter. A place where going to a local market is as normal for Californians as running up to the local grocery store to grab a jug of milk is for us. All. Year. Long. [Sigh….]

At first blush, this seems ideal… but is it? I think not. I know I would really miss the seasons. Sometimes, life is truly lived in the contrasts. By experiencing one extreme, we come to joyously embrace the other. It may sound crazy, but without the deprivation that winter brings… and without the marked differences that exist between the seasons… we would settle into a boring routine existence without our lives being enriched by contrast, by difference, by variety….

The contrast of the changing seasons can bring such
fun and humour to our traditional celebrations.

The rains of spring are wonderful in the way that they wash away the dirt of winter and tease those early plants out of the cold soil. The warmth of a spring day feels glorious on our faces, our arms, our hands and our legs. Our burdens seem lifted as we shed layers of bulky winter clothing, and accept the promise of summer that it brings. The heat of summer is delicious because it is so far removed from the icy -25C to -35C of an Edmonton winter. And yet the icy blast of a winter wind… you know the one… the one that bites your nose as you breathe it in… the one that needles its way right through the layers of protective clothing and attaches itself to your bones… is incredibly refreshing and even exhilarating because it is so different from the +30C of our typical late summer days. And then there is fall, spectacularly beautiful fall with its bountiful garden harvests and technicolour displays of changing colour in its leaves!

The pyrotechnics of fall are amazing...
especially when contrasted with the
very first snowfall of the season.
Those incredible winter days where the air is
so cold that the moisture is sucked right
out of it and hangs, suspended, as a layer of
spectacular ice crystals, catching that brilliant
winter sun that we have, making every
twig and branch glitter as if it was covered
in diamonds! 
Having no outdoor markets in the winter, is not a bad thing as there is something new to look forward to come spring. As the days grow longer and the sunlight creeps into our lives, seemingly unnoticed, reaching into the dark recesses of our winter moods, we are uplifted. As the snow melts, those westerly winds scream down over the mountain tops and roll out over the prairies toward us, drying everything in their wake.  And as the prairie wind comes and cleans up the slushy muddy puddles and the days get longer, I find myself reveling in the excitement and anticipation of the approaching market season.  It may sound silly, but I really do believe that our outdoor market is even more fantastic because its season is so short.

Have you noticed our days getting longer? How at 7am, daylight is now seeping back into our days? We are getting closer… closer to that time when locally grown, amazingly fresh, essentially nutritious and incredibly tasty produce is ours to be had at the Southwest Edmonton Market.

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Thursday, 21 February 2013

What a Different World We Live In!

I had an opportunity this past week to attend the Edmonton Gift Show. Held at Northlands, it is a gigantic event where importers and wholesalers come and try to sell their stock to retailers (owners of independent businesses). It isn't open to the public, and it's not a place to buy individual items; rather, it's a place for local businesses to place their orders. [Believe it or not, many retailers were placing their Christmas orders there for next winter!] It was a very strange experience for me to wander the huge halls, looking at booth after booth of mass produced items.

I guess I should have known what to expect. Afterall, any business or company big enough to produce items for other stores and businesses to sell, and any company looking to expand beyond its own doors, was obviously going to be carrying factory or machine-made, mass-produced items. Now in fairness, there really were some unique items: for example, the Saskatchewan Craft Council sent a bevy of potters & an ironworker to the show, there was a local Edmonton artist who made blown glass necklace pendants, and there seemed to be some unique jewllery designs. But there was a lot of off-shore, made in China type of stuff. Even the "Made in Canada" Hall had the feel of off-shore tourist store kitsch (picture Banff themed sweatshirts and ball caps). For the most part, throughout the show, the vendors were offering up things that I had seen before, and honestly, I'm really not much of a shopper, but they were all very familiar. Nothing there was really all that unique or eye catching. And I was aghast, seeing all the wholesale prices of things throughout the show, at just how incredible the mark-up is on retail items!

I guess it helped me to realize what I knew in my heart already... I really value the creative process. The little guy. The handmade, one of a kind items that you can find with the artisans of farmers' markets. I love the amazingly creative people and the stories that go with these items. I like the sense of time, patience, love, creativity, insight & perspective that goes into making them. I like that they are not always perfect. Or, conversely, that they are so well made, with such finely wrought materials that no manufacturing process in a mass produced reality can possibly imitate them.

This is the world we live in when we regularly shop at farmers' markets. We encounter unique, well-made, original handicrafts and items. Take Sandra, the creative genius behind the Orange Avocado stall at our market, for example. If you read her Orange Avocado Blog, you'll see the care that she takes when crafting and designing her jewellery pieces. She writes:
It's pretty much black and white to me this year. Less is more. It has never been about mass production for me. Never been about a million new styles each year; although there are a million ideas in my head. It’s about making something from nothing.

And for me, it is about developing a relationship with an artisan. Understanding the work of art that you are purchasing. Getting a sense of the inspiration and the personality of the artist that lies behind the piece. Connecting with your purchase.

And if that is not enough for you... I always come back to the social imperative that often motivates me: support the local artist or farmer, cook or food producer at a local market and any profit that is made goes directly to that person. There is no importer or wholesaler; no middleman to take a cut of the profit. And because the artists and other vendors at our farmers' market are local, the money stays in our local economy, ultimately helping the community in which we live. In today's mass-market, globally-focussed economic model, shopping in local markets is an important stand to take.

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Monday, 18 February 2013

Colour... It's SO Important!

Here's a few tips for making the most of your edible purchases at the market:

Zebra tomatoes are my favourite tomatoes. Their flavour is incredibly
intense, and they have such an amazing chewiness to them.
1. I always try to remember variety when cooking for my family: to provide them with as much nutrition in the foods they eat as I possibly can. Variety is the best way I know to ensure that they are getting the micro and macro nutrients that they need to stay healthy, to think well, to have bodies that are ready to embrace the activities that they love to do, and to sleep well at night. Really, it equips them to make the most out of life. Yup, variety is key. No supplements are needed. Just ensure that they are getting variety in their diets, and food in the form in which we were meant to eat it... fresh and satisfying (as opposed to packaged and processed)... and you will be doing them a gigantic favour! An easy way to do this is to shop at farmers' markets... and when you are there, make sure that you buy a lot of differently coloured items.

Purple Beans, when picked young and slender, are one of my favourite vegetables.
2. The brighter, the deeper, the more intense the colour of the fruit or vegetable, the more of a nutritional punch it packs (cauliflower is an exception to this rule). Think of the deep oranges of sweet carrots or miniscule jabeñero peppers or golden beets, the vivid reds of tomatoes ripened on the vine or apples sun-kissed on the tree, the rainbow of colours in a bag of hot house peppers, the intense green of a jalepeno pepper, and the startling deep purples of a red cabbage or a traditional beet. Add intense colour to your meals, and your salads and the foods you set on your table will look far more beautiful.

Romanesco Broccoli always makes me think of
the landscapes in Dr. Suess illustrations!
3. Colour can very easily add surprise and delight, visually, to your meals. Try out purple potatoes and purple beans. Green and dark red Zebra striped heirloom tomatoes... or even chocolate coloured tomatoes! There are so many fun foods to try. Try the light green, Dr. Suess-looking romanesco broccolis that have such queer, conical shapes to them. Go for a taste adventure. Make meal times an exploration to delight the senses. The farmers' market season is a brief one, so try some of the unique and unusual things there and have fun while you can.

Purple potatoes taste the same as red potatoes. They just look far more fun!
4. Don't peel your apples or pears, your carrots, cucumbers or potatoes. Often, the best nutrients are in the skins and peels. Just wash them carefully and use or serve. When you shop at a farmers' market, the produce you buy has been freshly picked, so their skins are not tough and hardened by excessive exposure to the air or by being picked before they are truly ripe, and they are not dipped in protective waxes to ensure that they last longer through the shipping and packaging process that happens in our large grocery chain stores. So shop at the market, wash up the fruits & veggies that you purchase there, taste the difference on your tongue and feel the difference in your mouth that a fruit or vegetable, eaten fresh picked and untainted, can make on your palate.
Habenero peppers are wee little things, no larger than a small
radish, and pack more heat than any pepper I know! Don't be
fooled: these are like little bombs in your kitchen!

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Friday, 15 February 2013

How Farmers’ Markets Heighten Our Interest in Food Culture

Our summer thunderstorms can provide lots of moisture

Recently, I read a tweet by Eva Sweet (@evasweetwaffles), one of the vendors that is has been a fixture at our market. Bamir sent out a link to a fascinating article in The Edmonton Journal by Liane Faulder on our local food culture here in Edmonton, and trends that we can expect to see in 2013 in our local food scene, from farmers’ markets through food trucks to restaurants. Read the full article here… Look for a growing love of local food in Edmonton in 2013

Bees are plentiful.
The basic premise is one that I love because it combines two things that I am passionate about: soil (and the impact of individual efforts combined with the nuances of our local physical landscape) with food! Our daughter, when she was a toddler loved to eat dirt in our garden and sand at the playground… but this is not what Liane was getting at!

Raspberries love the conditions here.
She talks about terroir, that wine afficionato term that describes the essence and the flavor that are given to a grape, and in turn a wine, by the effects of the place in which it is grown… the nuances of the climate (the sun, the rain, the amount of light we receive, the temperature fluctuations, the make-up of our water with its peculiar mineralization) and the earth (with the amount of spicy hot pepper seeds and white pith that wind up in our home compost, I wonder about the impact that has on the taste of the raspberries and rhubarb in our garden plot!) on the soil, and in turn on the food that we grow and raise.

Our hard frost comes early.
The thing that I love about tasting and eating local food, whether enjoyed at a local café or restaurant here in the city, or purchased at a vendor in a local market, is that I am eating a little part of our landscape. I am always inspired by landscapes… in fact, more often than not, we pick our travel adventures based on a landscape that we have never experienced before: a deep slot canyon, or a raging river, or pumice-strewn volcanic slopes, or deserts with cacti and pine trees. I really like it when a landscape surprises me with something I have never encountered before. With the unexpected. And the thing about local food is that it can do that for your tastebuds as well.
Our summer days are long and sunny.

Now, can I taste the difference between a tomato grown here and 
one grown, say, in southern California???… probably not, 
if both are purchased in local markets and are at their ripest, 
freshest, sweetest state. But I like to think that I can. It is a 
romantic notion, to be sure… but one I intend to 
experiment with at this year’s market. Why not try it with me.

The Challenge: 

Purchase tomatoes or berries, cucumbers or carrots,
apples or beets at a few different stalls this market 
season and see if you can taste the difference that 
comes from where and how they are grown. 
Is there a taste difference, or is terroir simply a romantic notion?

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Food And The Local Economy

Let’s face it: food truly lies at the foundation of every culture, and of every economy. We all must eat. Most family celebrations and community gatherings happen around food. And food begins with farms.

Our farmers, with the knowledge that they apply, the experience that they bring to their land, and the labour with which they toil, are the basis of our local economy. Support them, and you support the health not only of your families (through the amazingly fresh and nutritious things that you can buy and put tantalizingly… even decadently on your kitchen table), but the health of our local economy as well. It is one of the key reasons to shop at farmers’ markets.

But there is more to the story. There is an untouchable richness of experience that you will harvest, spending time at your local farmers’ market with a local producer. Do not rush the process. Stop and hear the stories of the farmers and craftsmen, the food producers and artisans. Get to know them. They will give you amazing insights into life itself, and they will give you a sense of the history of the item that you are purchasing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. You will be richly rewarded with advice, and a connection. Yup. I firmly believe that a farmers’ market is a place to set down roots.

Too often in our society, we are distanced from the things that we buy. We do not know where they come from, what experiences they had (both good and bad) to wind up in our bodies, in our homes, in our lives. Get to know your grower and producer, your artisan and craftsman, and you get to know a little more about this rich culture that we live in. Hear the stories and the advice and your life will be richer for the interaction. For the connection.
Here are two of our market's vendors from T.R. Greenhouses and Prairie Mill Bread Company.
Stuck for ideas? Here are some questions to ask of your farmers’ market vendor:
  • Where did this come from?
  • How did you come up with the design for this item?
  • Where did you gather the materials to make this item?
  • How have you found the growing season so far?
  • What is really good at your stall today?
  • What can I do with (insert the name of something that you are unfamiliar with… kale, kholorabi, a particular bedding plant, an intriguing spice mix)?
  • How are your animals raised?
  • What is it like to be a (insert occupation here… chicken farmer, meat producer, food truck vendor, jewelry designer, hot house grower)?
  • What, in the world, is that!?
  • What did this item do to wind up here, at your stall?
  • What is your favourite way of preparing this vegetable? This cut of meat? This partially prepared food item?

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Piles & Piles & Piles of Peppers: The Urgüp Market

My love affair with Farmers’ Markets began 24 years ago when I was backpacking through Turkey with my husband. We came across a local market in what was then the small town of Urgüp, in the Cappadocia region. It lay in the heart of a dry & arid landscape full of whimsical hoodoos and the most amazing underground cities carved out of the volcanic pumice rock that covered the countryside.

Look closely at this photo and you'll see rooms carved out of the hillside
and cone shaped rock formations that were also people's homes.
It was getting to be late fall, the mornings were crisp and the fresh produce was coming in by the truckload. The Urgüp market wasn’t a fancy one with tents awnings, tables and beautiful crafts and jewelry, prepared foods and delicious treats like those you’d find at our market. It was a strictly utilitarian fruit & veggie market: flat bed trucks backed into the town square in a line, tailgates opened up and contents for sale; and tables were fashioned out of planks and wooden crates that were heaped with pears, apples, gigantic carrots, and small lemons with a central weigh scale placed behind. 

The Urgüp Market, look at the mountains of peppers
cascading off the yellow truck.
What astounded me… and this image has stayed with me ever since… were the farm trucks piled high with mountains of hot banana peppers! Never had I seen so many hot peppers in one place before! Their sheer numbers, and the towering height of their piles, astounded me! Their vivid colours… the bright yellows, set against the deep purples of their neighbouring eggplants were incredibly beautiful. Just look at that pile! Have you ever seen so many in your life!? 

Sure, a farmers’ market is hands down, the best place to stock up on fantastically fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, but it is so much more… and this first exposure to a rustic market in a foreign land taught me that even at its most basic, a local farmers’ market was a work of art. A scene of incredible beauty. And I have found that wherever I encounter them, in my adventures abroad or in my own neighbourhood, fruit and vegie displays stir my heart, even to this day.

I can’t wait to experience the beauty that our vendors will produce this season at our Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Market. Look for artfully displayed produce at the following 2013 season’s fruit & veggie vendors at The Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Market: