Growing up, my family had a small bit of land by our family cottage that we used to grow vegetables. All summer long I would whine and groan about working in the hot sun with all the bugs, but at the end of the day we’d have homemade hodge-podge with fresh carrots, beans, babies potatoes and whatever else was on hand. At the end of the summer, we’d clean, blanch, freeze, and preserve beans and berries on the weekends. At home, we cleared out our root cellar, made by dad in the corner of our creepy basement, to make room for potatoes, onions, carrots, jams, and pickles. Harvest weekends could result in trunks full of vegetables and our luggage crammed in between kids in the back seat. It wasn’t until much later in life, when I was too busy with school or work, that I started yearning for those long days of too much sun and too many mosquitoes just so that I could get my hands on dirt covered carrots and fresh peas still in their pod.
As I got settled in my career and paid off my student loans, I was introduced to my first Edmonton farmer’s market, the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market. Each week I’d buy a variety of things, including the sweetest carrots I could find and delicious bagels. When summer rolled around, I’d even treat myself to succulent strawberries.
I moved to the other side of the river a few years ago, so I now frequent the City Market Downtown. Each week, I buy more or less the same things, but everything is like a treat. Everything is crisp and flavourful, and they stay that way all week. Even the still-damp mesclun (lettuce) mix from Reclaim Urban Farm Inc. stays fresh and crisp for the whole week.
I typically focus on foods that I’ll be eating for my snacks and lunches (if I have to work in a cubicle, I’m at least going to have a nice lunch), but I sometimes treat myself to little extras, like fish from a local fishmonger, bread by Prairie Mills, maybe a couple of cookies, or honey from Beanstalk Honey (best. honey. ever. – I have at least two varieties in my cupboard right now).
To me, shopping at the farmer’s market isn’t just a nice treat, it also makes economic sense. I don’t like it when food starts to wilt and go bad because I eat almost all my fruit and veggies raw and unprocessed, even in the winter. When they’re wilting and drying out, they just aren’t that good anymore and, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but they tend to go to waste. In contrast, the market food stays fresh and delicious a long time. Yes, I do have to pay more upfront for a lot of things, but it’s worth it because it all gets eaten. And, I eat a surprisingly small amount of food, all considering, because it’s all filling and good quality.
The market itself is worth a trip, even if all you do is buy a few baked goods. In the winter, it’s housed on the mainfloor of city hall. In the summer, it takes up 3 blocks not far from city hall. The surrounding shops cater the market goers and there’s a huge variety of stalls (veggies, clothes, plants, baked goods, food trucks, even dog treats). I always go first thing, before it gets too hot and too crowded, and even when I have a list to stick to, I still like to browse all the other options.
There are also a lot of weekend evening markets scattered throughout the city. The one closest to me, 124 Street Grand Market, sounds great, but I haven’t gone yet because it’s on Thursdays, which is just a bit too close to Saturday to be a useful grocery day for me. However, I will have to try and go a couple times as I often volunteer or travel on Saturdays throughout the summer.
I’d be so sad if I ever moved somewhere without a farmer’s market.