Farmers’ markets are off to a promising start.
“Early reports I’ve had from different markets out there say that there is a lot of customer traffic early in the season, which is good considering the economy,” said Eileen Kotowich, farmers’ market specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Early in the year, you’re never sure how things are going to go, so that’s a really positive sign.”
There are 130 approved markets in 110 communities throughout Alberta. The number has stayed steady for the past five years, but the number of vendors at the markets has grown.
Fresh produce is still the No. 1 attraction at the markets.
“People sometimes forget that the markets are year round because they think there is only produce, but there’s so much more,” she said.
About 25 markets operate year round throughout the province with varying schedules. Baking and meat products continue to remain popular with customers.
“We’re not just seeing sausages and kielbasa, we’re now seeing primal cuts, which has increased interest in meat and protein,” said Kotowich.
Markets have grown in popularity in both rural and urban areas.
“For rural areas, it’s not just about the selling of the food products; it’s about building rural communities and that’s really important,” she said.
There are still many producers interested in getting their products into farmers’ markets, and Alberta Agriculture hosts “Getting into farmers’ market workshops” in winter and early spring. Anyone interested in more information can contact the new-venture specialists at the Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM.
Farmers’ markets are a good way for people to test a product on a prospective market.
“If it’s a food product, everybody needs to know that it is being done safely. The first thing they should do is talk to a health inspector,” said Kotowich.
An inspector will ask questions about preparing, packaging and labelling to ensure all the necessary regulations are being met.
“Then you can go out and have fun telling your story and talking to people about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and getting the passion and interest that you have in your own product across to your customers,” she said.
Alberta-approved farmers’ markets can be identified by the Sunny Girl logo. For markets to qualify, 80 per cent of the vendors’ products must be produced in Alberta and the markets must run at least 10 times a year. There are a number of other qualifications that markets must meet to qualify for the program.
This year, Alberta Agriculture has launched a mobile app for Apple and Android products. The app allows users to find markets anywhere in the province. Visit www.sunnygirl.ca to learn more about markets or to download the app.