Saturday, 27 April 2013

Plant A Row, Grow A Row: A Unique Partnership

FINALLY.... after yesterday's amazingly warm temperatures it feels like spring and so it is finally time to make our announcement.... I am writing today with EXCITING news! We have created a fantastic opportunity for the Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Market: an opportunity that will set our market apart from the rest and make it a truly special entity on the Edmonton Market landscape!

We are going to be partnering with the Edmonton Food Bank in a very unique way. Come harvest time, our market will be the city’s collection site for the Plant A Row, Grow A Row donation drop off. So mark your calendars for
September 18th, 2013

Plant a Row, Grow a Row is a nationwide initiative that collects fresh produce for local food banks. It encourages people to plant a row of vegetables in their home gardens in the spring that they, in turn, harvest and donate to their local food bank in the fall. Hosting this collection event at our market will allow people to donate to the food bank in a highly personal way, and it will allow non-gardeners to participate as well, as they can purchase produce from our market’s vendors and donate those purchases at the harvest time event.

This has the potential to increase foot traffic through our market, media exposure to our market, and support the community all at the same time... making it even more of a destination... a happening place! And it has the added bonus of promoting a very worthy cause, one that will enrich the city, and the greater community, in which we live.

Through the Plant A Row, Grow A Row initiative, people can donate healthy, fresh, nutrient-dense, high quality food to the Food Bank for people who are in need of food, financial and educational support (when it comes to budgeting, shopping, cooking & preparing nutritious meals) in our city. The Edmonton Food Bank has a number of creative supports in place to teach their clients how to use this fresh food simply and easily, and it supplies much of the fresh food that charitable organizations like The Hope Mission and the Salvation Army use to feed their clients in their soup kitchens. This food will not go to waste and will be greatly appreciated.

With this unique partnership between the Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Market and the Edmonton Food Bank, we will be giving you, our market shoppers, an opportunity to support a charitable cause in an unexpected, meaningful, and interactive way. 

We wanted to share our excitement with you. And we can't wait to see what you grow, and how much food we can collectively raise, purchase and donate to the Edmonton Food Bank. More details will follow...

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A Little More About Food Trucks & Our Market

Food trucks are one of the trendiest things on the foodie scene:
  • There is an Eat St. app that you can download for free off iTunes that links your current location to the nearest food truck so that you can, on a whim,  get your fix of gourmet comfort food. 
  • There is the wildly popular Food Network show of the same name, Eat St. which is actually a Canadian show that features trucks, their recipes, interviews with their chefs, that tells their stories and that shares their inspiration with its viewers. 
  • And food trucks are popping up all over the place, with Calgary and Edmonton hosting some of the hottest food truck scenes in Canada. 

Essentially gourmet kitchens on wheels, food trucks usually offer up comfort food, cooked fast and fresh on site, often using locally-sourced ingredients. And, from our old view of food trucks as hot dog, hamburger & fries stands and carnival fare, they have made us redefine our view of what a food truck can and should be. Bully Truck will be at our market this year, using food sourced from the local vendors who are at our market, making wonderful things like sumptuous food offerings like Mac & Cheese, Poutine with Sausage Gravy, Turkey Burgers, Fresh Vegetable Salad topped with Smoked Meat and Black Garlic Aeoli, and Pulled Pork Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Yum!

I was driving around earlier this month, listening to CBC's interview of the Food Network's James Cunningham, producer of Eat St., a wildly successful show on the Food Network that tours around, filming and interviewing the chefs behind popular food trucks throughout North America. (To hear the interview, go to and scroll down to April 12, at the 16:30 minute mark). He was in Calgary, filming one of their food trucks there. Though it is a Canadian show, Eat St. does most of its filming States-side, partially due to the fact that there are far more trucks down south where the population is substantially more numerous and the climate allows for trucks to be open for far longer seasons than it does in Canada. However, we Canadians are a resilient bunch, and are coming out to support food tucks, hand over fist! So we have a definite presence on the North American truck scene map.

Wendy & Dean of Bully Food Truck
He made some really interesting points. He stressed that the chefs who rent or own and operate these trucks had to be a bit crazy and super passionate about food to run a food truck, as it is a lot of work. And he likened what is happening now, on the food truck scene, to what he called a Food Truck Revolution. Food trucks are a phenomenon that have absolutely exploded onto the street scene because of two serendipitous things occurring in North America a couple of years ago.

First, there was the down turn in the North American economy. Often, the people behind the gourmet food trucks are 5 star chefs. At this particular time, some were out of work (and, he added almost sheepishly, some were simply office workers who desperately wanted out from behind their desk to do what they love) but they still wanted to be gainfully employed in the culinary arts in which they were trained and were passionate. They were nervous to roll the dice and open up their own restaurant in the height of a recession. So these chefs rented or invested in trucks, hit the pavement and took their inspiration to the street to do what they loved.

There is a flip side to this point as well. With the downturn in the economy, especially in the United States, many people were no longer going to expensive 5 star restaurants. But they still had a passion and a desire to be eating gourmet food.  So these people began turning to more expensive, but gourmet, street food as a replacement for eating out in fine dining restaurants.

The second thing was the social media explosion that has occurred in our society with social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest being all the rage. These sites have the possibility to make things popular, to make things go "viral," and to get news out almost instantaneously. Food truck chefs can tweet out their information throughout the day. And their customers can retweet or "like" that info out once again to their friends, who "like" or tweet it to theirs, and so on. When it comes to food trucks, this can include menu items, their location for that day, and what is hot & popular on a given day. As a result, food trucks have their fanatical followers, and lineups at the trucks can be insane. James Cunningham likened it to a gourmet flash mob where there's an energy and an enthusiasm in the line up & the air is a-buzz with excited "What are you getting? What did you get? What's good here?" chatter.

The success and popularity of the food truck phenomenon has made another important thing happen. Cities, like Edmonton and Calgary, are recognizing what a great thing having a vibrant food truck scene is for the atmosphere and profitability of a city, and they are giving parking spots to the food trucks along with their licences in prime, downtown locations. 

The chefs in these trucks are beholden only to themselves and this creates a unique opportunity to blend influences from their upbringing and fuse them with their own unique style in preparing comfort foods. The gourmet result is a surprisingly delicious and inspiring fusion cuisine. A carte blanche, if you will, to do what they want & to bring their inspiration to the street.

Edmonton's food truck scene has taken off this year with some new trucks hitting the pavement and setting up on our streets. Our market will feature a few one of these newbies. 

Sailin' On started up with a few test runs prior to its grand opening this month (April, 2013) and has already developed a rabid, ravenous following.... just check out their twitter feed and scan through the comments (@sailinon780). People are raving about scrumptious offerings like their Vegan Reuben sandwich. Everything that Garrett and Mike make is vegan fare. Think Burritos with Green Hecka' Hot Chile Sauce, Seitan Reuban Sandwich, and Curry Chips. Mmmmm!

Mike and Garrett started off in the food truck direction years ago, with an annual event on the front stoop of their home in Garneau, where they made vegan corndogs for their friends and passers by. This event became quite popular, and so, after much preparation & research, they have taken the leap from making their immensely popular vegan corn dogs to expanding their menu and jumping into the Edmonton food truck scene this year, "bringing vegan street food to the masses."

On their website, they proclaim, "Gripping hard to their punk rock roots and DIY work ethic, they built a truck, tested and re-tested their menu through pop-up and special events, learned to look good in hairnets and rocked plenty of tight jams along the way." Check out their particular flavour, style and the creative take that they bring both to the food that they prepare and to the atmosphere of our market. You're sure to be surprised, delighted and satisfied...  

There aren't many opportunities in Edmonton to see multiple food trucks gathered together in one place. It is a really cool "must-try" experience. Our market, with its opening day Truck Rally, is one of those. Come out and see what all the fuss is about. And if those trucks are well supported and do well on that day, they will be back each week, making sumptuous food for us! Make Wednesday night Dinner-At-The-Market night for your family and friends. See you there!

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Farmers' Markets Can Delight & Surprise

There are many varieties of durian.
I have always loved and admired the artistry and arrangements of colourful fruits and vegetables in markets the world over. There is something incredible about pyramids of stacked foods that tickles my fancy. I've seen pyramids of spices in Cairo, pyramids of flower heads in Little India in Singapore, pyramids of tea leaves in New York, and pyramids of fruit and veggies, some of which are delectably strange and intriguing (like durian, dragon fruit and mangosteens) the world over. Artistry & colour. That is what I love.

Over time we have explored many markets as a family, and what our kids love are the edible treats! They love being surprised by the delicious & decadent food items that creative vendors invent and make for their customers.

Sweet Stuff's Mini Cupcakes
Our Southwest Edmonton Market has salty sweet kettle corn by Original Canadian Kettle Corn,  incredible cookies (like potato chip chocolate chip) by Gourmet Girl Cookies, decadent & beautiful cupcakes by Sweet Stuff Cakes, luscious fudge by Phil's Fudge Factory, gluten-free treats (like cinnamon buns) at Celebrate Gluten Free, puff pastries and tea cakes by Raspberry and Cocoa, and mini donuts at The Pink Kernel. These are things that kids all love... and that many an adult gets weak-kneed over for as well! And the best thing about them: you can munch them as you walk the market and browse the stalls of our other vendors.

Chicken Feet
But in other cultures, the things that are regarded as treats can be often quite surprising. In many a Chinatown we have seen pigs ears and chicken feet offered up for sale. And very, very pungently odoured (a.k.a. stinky) durian slices.

In Singapore we saw people lining up for sticky, paper thin, eight inch squares of meat... they shined and glinted and we had NO idea what they were. Finally on our last day, the kids got brave enough to try some... and they turned out to be slices of sweet, carmelized bacon called bak kwa. Our son and daughter thought they were in heaven and kicked themselves for not being brave enough to try them earlier!

We have tried strange-tasting popsicles made of red beans and coconut milk, or jack fruit and bean paste.
Bak Kwa in Singapore

In Thailand we loved the coconut-sweetened sticky rice with red beans, cooked inside bamboo stalks over coals or steamed to perfection, and we took them on hikes with us, peeling them  open when we were hungry.

We have enjoyed a decidedly bizarre version of a snow cone... piled high with shaved ice and colourful syrups making a beautiful rainbow pattern on top... with grass jelly and red beans and corn kernels in the bottom!). That discovery definitely shocked us!

The Singaporean version of a snow cone...
with a very unusual surprise underneath!
Though I love the eye opening nature of many of these treats, and love the exposure that they give us to the unique and unusual aspects of other cultures, there are many treats that are more familiar and satisfying to us... like the elephant ears, which are like large flattened donuts topped with icing sugar, in Portland.... and of course, the treats in our own market.

There are many ways that a farmers' market can delight and surprise you with special and unique treats. Come out and explore the Southwest Edmonton Market. There you will find food trucks that can satisfy many a food craving. And food vendors with treats aplenty! There are sure to be wonderful surprises in store for you there.

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Monday, 15 April 2013

Volunteers Needed!

Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to the community in which you work and live.

While our market manager and vendors play key roles in the success of our market, much of its vibrancy, creativity and life stems from the efforts of its volunteers. They are its heart and soul. From student volunteers, buskers, children's entertainers and parking monitors through to the wonderful people on the Steering Committee itself, the Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market is brought to life by the dedication, community activism and incredible spirit of its volunteers.

We are looking for many volunteers, young and old, to help us create a vibrant atmosphere at our 2013 market. Whether you are a Lillian Osborne or Mother Margaret Mary student looking for volunteer hours to reach your leadership credit target, or a senior citizen looking for ways to give back to the community that you have grown to love, there is an opportunity here for you. You can volunteer once or countless times... the choice is up to you. On Wednesdays, from May 15th through to our last market of the year on October 2nd, we need:

  • Buskers
  • Children's Entertainers 
  • traffic directors (adult)
  • Foot Traffic Counters (to help us monitor our traffic flow statistics)
  • People to volunteer at our table inside the Terwillegar Rec Centre during the day on market day, handing out flyers and shopping bags on market day, directing people to the market and answering questions that might come up (this position would be air conditioned on those hot days & dry on those wet ones!)
  • Sign Ambassadors... people to drive around and put up signs the night before the market starts each week (May 14-Oct 3), and collect them on market day once the market is over (each would be responsible for a few signs and one intersection location each week)
  • People to help with tent set ups before the market begins (2:30-4:30pm market day)
  • People to help set up picnic tables, garbage cans, large pieces of children's equipment, traffic pylons, tables and chairs
  • People who love working with children who would like to man the children's corner
  • Runners to act as go-betweens for the vendors, market manager and volunteers during market time (4:30-7:30pm)
  • People to man the Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market tent (greeting people, answering questions, conducting information surveys to help us improve our market)
  • Greeters at the entrance to our market
  • People to help with tearing down the market and re-storing all of the tables, chairs, tents and equipment back in the storage trailer (7:30-8:30pm)
Don't be overwhelmed by this list! Our needs are very flexible:  you can volunteer for one or two market evenings or for the entire market season.  You can come out for an hour at start of the market to help set up, or at the end to help with its tear-down.  There is flexibility in the volunteering.  Hopefully you will enjoy it so much that you want to continue!

If you, or someone you know, would like to help us create a great market season this year, please contact our market manager, Melisa Zapisocky

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Impact of Population Trends on Our Market

We are constantly trying to think “outside the box” when it comes to growing our market and keeping it relevant and a key player on the farmers’ market scene. And in doing so, we are also contributing significantly to developing and cultivating the local food movement in Edmonton and providing a vibrant gathering place to help nurture a healthy community. Because the Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Market is a not-for-profit organization, this can prove challenging at times and often requires a lot of creative thinking and hard work on the part of our volunteer steering committee.

One of our unique ideas this year involved partnering in an innovative way with some Business 480 students from the University of Alberta. Under the guidance of their professor, Aaron Fife and Andrew Kananagh drew up an exciting business plan for us as a project for their course.

The results of this study, released to us this past week, have been extremely enlightening! We are implementing many of their strategies, but I won’t bore you with those details here. However, I think you will find some of their research particularly interesting and compelling. It uncovered two important and major trends in the habits of North Americans:

1)         The population at large is becoming more aware of environmental issues and the effects many of their daily decisions have on a global scale. A recent study of the environmental impact of food imports done in Waterloo, Ontario found that on average, commonly eaten foods travelled 4,497 km’s to get into the region. Interestingly, all of the foods that they studied could’ve been grown in Ontario, and if this had been done it would result in a 49,485 tonne decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.3 Obviously with the colder climate in Alberta some of these products would need to be imported, but even so the numbers are staggering. And consumers are becoming increasingly aware of it, compelling them to decrease their carbon footprint and use local food products.
2)         As people become much more aware of what they’re putting into their bodies, farmers markets become increasingly appealing. Although not all products sold at markets are necessarily healthy, in general, farmers markets are naturally associated with healthy eating due to their “natural” and “home-grown” appeal. Consumers feel more certain about what they’re buying because they get to interact and question the vendors who made or grew the product.

Know that by coming out to your weekly community market, you are part of an important, greater movement in society. You are knowledgeable and aware of key issues and you are acting on them in a powerful way. You are part of an enlightened demographic that puts a priority on…

  • the nutritional well-being of your family, neighbours and friends,
  • lessening your environmental footprint and doing your part to slow down climate change, and
  • the investing (through time, effort and energy) in the greater health of your community at large. 

By coming to the market you are a key part of its success. And you are “voting with your dollar,” making your purchases count toward shifting habits in our society along a healthier scale.

It’s really a very simple formula: the more you come to local markets, the more successful they become; the more successful they become, the more vendors they will attract; the more vendors they attract, the more choice you will have as a consumer. So this year, try to make coming to our market a habit. You will be rewarded in countless ways and happy, I’m sure, with the result. And you will be doing your part to help our community market grow and thrive.

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Monday, 8 April 2013

Finding Connection

Our family escaped to the back country this winter to disconnect from our lives, enjoy some incredible scenery, do some fun athletic winter things, and connect with each other. It was an unusual escape because the place we were winding up at had no wifi, no internet and no cell service. In fact, while we were there, one of the main roads was closed by an avalanche. Yup, we were pretty removed from our day to day reality. There was no choice but to connect with each other. And believe it or not, our teens survived.

So often in our modern world we are disconnected:
  • We are disconnected from each other ~ despite having multiple electronic devices that give the illusion of being "connected" to each other (through email and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), we are not truly interacting in deeply meaningful ways, and so we are not truly connected.
  • We are disconnected from our communities ~ by going home, driving into our garages and shutting our doors behind us we don't see and communicate with each other and many of us feel far too busy to take (or make) the time to participate in community events.
  • We are disconnected from our family members ~ by retreating into our entertainment devices (movies, tvs, gaming, social media, even books), we are disconnecting, even at home, from those we love and live with.

Now I'm not saying that these devices, these comforts and benefits of living in the modern world, are all bad. Used wisely and in a limited way they can greatly enhance our lives and the lives of those around us. But they can be a crutch, and a source of disconnection. And because we are easily and often disconnected from each other, we don't really forge those deeply valuable connections that build a strong, vibrant community. 

Your local farmers' market is a place to do this. It is one of those rare gems in our society where everything just comes together perfectly: people, stories, relationships, colours, artistry, creativity, wonderment, excitement, deliciousness, a sense of connection and of belonging... All of these things bring meaning to our lives. So plan on making your community market a regular habit and...

  • meet family and friends at a food truck for dinner
  • run into your neighbours walking down the isles between the farmers' market stalls
  • have a great conversation with a friend you haven't seen for a while over a beautiful piece of jewellery at an artisan's stall
  • laugh with your kids as you make a newspaper pot craft and plant seeds at our up-coming Garden Festival
  • ride your bikes to the market together and see your community from a different perspective
  • have a great conversation with a vendor about what they make, how they make it, and why they love doing it... and make a new friend
  • meet community members for the first time at the Community Engagement Tent and find out what else is happening in and around your neighbourhood
  • meet strangers with common interests as you wait in line at a food truck or a vendor's stall
  • bask in the vibrancy of the market's atmosphere and know that you are living in a healthy, connected community

Going to a farmers' market isn't just about shopping and eating (though those are two of its amazing benefits!!). It's about conversations, connections, adding meaning to your life and building relationships.... and that's also, coincidentally, what it takes to forge healthy communities and engaged societies where where people can lead fulfilling, enjoyable and rewarding lives. A local market can provide mental and physical health. It can nourish us in many ways.

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

Friday, 5 April 2013

Farmers’ Market Shopping Tips

So how do you “do a farmers' market” well? Here are a few tips to get you started:

Ours is an outdoor market. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. A good friend of mine says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad dressing.” So stop complaining or making excuses, grab your
Canadian spirit, put on your raincoat or slap on the sunscreen, and get to the market! There are wonderful things waiting there for you.
Always bring lots of small bills and change. You will be paying at each individual farmer or artisan's stand. Most weeks there is an ATM on site, but it dispenses only $20 or $50 bills.
Bring large cloth shopping bags or baskets. Not only are they better for the environment, they will save multiple trips to your car to unload, and they generally pack better than plastic bags do. 
• Some people find that old baby strollers make good shopping carts. They fold up nicely in the trunk. 
If you use wire folding cart, what I always call a “granny” cart, put in a box or liner or your produce will work through the wire squares.
• Some people find that fanny packs are the best way to hold onto money and keys. You don't have to worry about setting a purse or a wallet down and you have both hands free to shop and carry bags. I have awesome shopping baskets with a zippered pockets on the side that work perfectly for me.
Make sure you know where your car keys are. The number one lost and found item is a set of car keys. Nine times out of ten they are buried in one of your produce bags, but it’s best to know where they are so you don’t rifle through your bags, damaging the items that you worked so hard to select and collect. Should you misplace your keys, check out our community tent on site for our lost and found.

• When you first arrive, walk through the entire market and look at all the offerings before you buy. Take in the beauty, the atmosphere… then notice the selection and the quality. There can be differences in prices for the same produce type and there can be quite a range in quality.

• Bargaining is not well received. Remember that these are the growers and creators of the things you see before you. Do not insult them. They worked very hard to sell their items at the best possible price.

• Most of the produce is vine or tree ripened. This means it can be delicate to the touch and easily damaged. Please be careful handling the fresh produce and other delicate items.

• If the vendor is not too busy, don’t hesitate to ask questions about recipes or growing methods or how something was crafted, created or inspired. You might even get to know each other's name, swap a few stories, and build a meaningful connection.

• Have patience with the vendors. They are not polished sales or marketing people: they are farmers and individual producers or artisans. Some were up late picking and irrigating, packaging and preparing, and then up early to load and drive the truck several hours to market.
• If you smile at and appreciate them, you will find them smiling back and appreciating you in return. That is what farmers' markets are really about:
  • -       Smiles and mutual appreciation.
  • -       Families growing food for families.
  • -       Communities supporting communities.
  • -       People connecting with each other.
  • -       And our wallets supporting the local economy.
   Do you have any smart market shopping tips to share? If so, I'd love to know what they are. Please comment.

Some of these points are borrowed and adapted from the Sacramento California Farmers' Market.

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee