With the emphasis on going green, farmers’ markets are growing in popularity.
Just hours from the field, fresh to the vendor’s table, locally grown fruit and vegetables give buyers a wide selection at a good price. Small gardeners find this a good way to earn a few dollars while those with larger acres devoted to growing produce consider this part of their farm income plan. Fresh produce attracts urban dwellers whose yard space and time is limited for growing veggies. Any gardener who can produce new potatoes by the first of July can command a premium price and berries in season are quickly sold out.
There are basic rules and health regulations set by each of the provinces for their farmers’ markets. As well, each local market has its own rules and guidelines as to sale days and hours. There is a market manager to take bookings, assign tables, collect the fees and keep the business running in an orderly fashion, and a local board is elected to govern the affairs of the market.
Most markets start early in spring, often beginning just before Easter. The location of the market determines the starting date and those held indoors can open earlier than the outdoor markets. The Provost, Saskatchewan market runs from just before Easter to just after Thanksgiving. There is a short break before the Christmas season markets after which it closes until spring. The Christmas markets attract many shoppers looking for unique gifts, and bookings for tables for these sales must be made well in advance.
Farmers’ markets provide an outlet not only for produce but for home baking and craft items. The motto is, make it, bake it or grow it. Making goods for sale is like a home-based business but with the weekly exposure; there is more opportunity for sales in the local community. To maintain a good customer base, sellers strive to produce quality products. Visitors to a community find these markets most interesting as every area has its own ambience.
You can be sure to find delicious baking, and tables with the flakiest fruit-filled pies and butter tarts like Grandma made and perhaps still makes for sale, usually has a long line of customers. The trend to healthier eating is often reflected in the whole-wheat, multi-grain and flax-baked products offered for sale, all at a competitive price. In summer, an array of tasty homemade jams, jellies, relishes and pickles tempt the buyers.
This past summer I spoke to the owners of O’Neill’s Greenhouse, from the hamlet of Ribstone, Alberta, who are in their sixth year of operation and sell produce at the Provost market. Gerry and Helana O’Neill own the greenhouse and operate it with help from daughter-in-law Kim O’Neill. Kim regularly sells at the market with her sons Connor and Nathan, and her cousin Averoe Rissling. They offer a variety of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, herbs and an assortment of peppers.
Operating three greenhouses of approximately 3,000 square feet each, the O’Neills start seeds in the home about the end of January, and the plants are set into the greenhouse (which is heated with oil-fired boilers) in March. They also sell their produce to local, independently owned stores.
Handcrafted wooden items, knitted and sewn articles and handmade jewelry can be found at most markets. A wide assortment of items limited only by the craftspeople’s ideas is available.
Attending the market is also a social gathering place for many, and during the busy harvest time the farm wife and “go-fer” can dash in and pick up baking for the meals ahead.
There is something for everyone at your local farmers’ market. Why not consider it as a place to shop or as a place to sell?
Naden Hewko writes from Macklin, Saskatchewan