When you’re a food lover, you can mark the seasons by the availability of local produce. Bundles of fresh asparagus signal the arrival of spring and nothing says summer like the fragrance of fresh peaches wafting from B.C. fruit trucks.
In Alberta, these fresh foods can be purchased, right from their source, at more than 140 farmers’ markets, which typically operate from May through to Thanksgiving weekend in October. (Some indoor markets run year-round, while still others set up around the holiday season, with baked goods, food items and handmade gifts.) Nearly 900 vendors are registered with the Alberta Farmers’ Market Association, so you’re bound to find something unique or delicious no matter the time of year or market that you visit.
Visiting these friendly, open-air markets offers a nostalgic kick, but their evolution has kept them relevant—and arguably more popular than ever. Modern markets now host breweries, distilleries and wine producers, allowing them to offer samples and broaden their customer base. And while staple produce, meats, breads and preserves are still prominent, a smorgasbord of multicultural items are now available at most markets.
More than 20 countries are directly represented at Edmonton’s Bountiful Market, and several vendors sell products from more than one country. Market manager Paul Dolphin says it’s that diversity—along with many staples like flour, eggs, locally raised proteins and produce—that make the 39,000-square-foot market a one-stop shop. Bring a big basket, and plan on staying for lunch because Bountiful is also home to seven permanent restaurants. If you can’t decide between the jerk chicken, Laotian pho or Indian curry, just have a different one each day of the weekend; the market is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, all year long.
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If you’re looking for Mexican food, it’s served up at several markets—though you’ll want to make a trip to the High River farmers’ market for Oaxacan favourites from El Papalote.
“Not many people know of Oaxacan food,” says owner Imasel Jiménez Moreno, who’s marking his third year at the market. “I want people to have an authentic experience while also helping out people where I grew up.” He accomplishes this by sourcing ingredients from the Mexican state of Oaxaca and meats from High River producers. El Papalote products are so popular that they’re now on shelves at two of the southern Alberta town’s retailers, Colossi’s Coffee House and the new Emerson Lane Mercantile.
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For many, the ability to support local producers and artisans is a big part of the appeal of farmers’ markets. Food supply concerns during the pandemic drove home the markets’ importance even more. Shopping at a local market gives you direct access to the producer. If you want to know the provenance of your food, all you have to do is ask the person standing behind the counter. Chances are, they grew or made it.
There’s never been a better time to explore the world through food, and it’s never been easier to do that in our own cities, towns and villages. To find a market near you, visit the Alberta Farmers’ Market Association, or download the province’s approved farmers’ market app.