Support Your Own

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By visiting Winnipeg farmers’ markets

By Candice G. Ball

 

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We Winnipeggers love our farmers’ markets. In the summer, the Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, the city’s largest market, attracts as many as 13,000 visitors on a single Saturday.

It’s always a feast for all five senses. From handcrafted jewelry to freshly baked bread and homemade jam to music acts such as local fiddler Patti Kusturok, it’s a rich cultural experience that makes us feel connected to our food and our community.

The inaugural St. Norbert Farmers’ Market was held on July 16, 1988. Nearly three decades ago, eight vendors sold their wares. Today the market has more than 125 vendors.

Phillip Veldhuis, of Phil’s Honey fame, has been a part of the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market since 1992. He was president of the board for 20 years, and now sits as treasurer. He also sits on the board of The Farmers’ Markets Association of Manitoba Co-op Inc. and has advocated buying local for decades.

What does it mean to buy local? Veldhuis describes local as produced in Manitoba. “Local means not produced through a large industrial-supply chain. It’s usually not produced in massive quantities. From the time it’s picked or produced to the time it gets to the consumer, it’s a matter of hours, not weeks,” he explains.

In general, what’s produced locally is fresher and healthier. You know exactly where your food is coming from and you can ask questions about how animals are treated or what ingredients go into the product.
What are some of the advantages to buying local? For starters, the producer often has face-to-face contact with her or his customer. “You get immediate feedback and you can adjust your product to meet the demands of the local marketplace,” explains Veldhuis.

Marilyn Firth, executive director of St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, adds that when you buy local, you keep money in your community. “When you circulate money in your own province, communities thrive,” she says.

When you buy local, you’re reducing your environmental footprint. When you buy tomatoes from California, for instance, there’s a significant environmental footprint from the transportation.
You’re also contributing to local farmers’ and artisans’ livelihoods. Veldhuis is a third-generation beekeeper. His grandmother introduced him to a hive filled with buzzing bees and imparted her beekeeping knowledge.

Phil’s Honey is produced in various locations in the western Red River Valley as well as the southwest Interlake regions of Manitoba. Although the largest portion of the crop is canola honey, Veldhuis also produces clover, alfalfa, sunflower and buckwheat honey.

Selling honey at St. Norbert Farmers’ Market has contributed to Veldhuis’s household income, but until recently, sales only happened from Victoria Day until Halloween. That all changed last fall when the farmers’ market went online.

“Farmers’ market producers haven’t had a consolidated way to sell,” says Firth. “Now producers can sell all year long online.” To date, about 40 producers have registered and about 30 currently offer products online. They range from local meat and poultry to skincare products and plants and flowers to sewn products.

Orders can be placed online at your convenience with pick up taking place in St. Norbert every two weeks. You can browse the products online at www.stnorbertfarmersmarket.ca online. Since going live, sales have steadily increased. “It’s very important for producers to have a year-round income. It’s the key to make the farm work,” explains Veldhuis.

Bessie Hatzitrifonos, owner of Bessie’s Best, plans to offer her award-winning dips, including tzatziki, tapenade and hummus online. The 2012 farmers’ market season was Hatzitrifonos’s first year at the farmers’ markets around the city.

“It’s a good launching pad,” explains Hatzitrifonos. “It was an excellent way to see if you have a viable product. When you’re offering samples, you get immediate feedback. That can be really encouraging for someone just starting out.”

Many of the vendors who sell products at farmers’ markets are trying to transform a hobby into a business venture. “Many of the producers are fuelled by passion and part of that is being shrewd in business and running it well,” says Veldhuis.

Over the years, Veldhuis has become intrigued with the feminist perspective. Even very traditional skills such as baking pies or making perogies take on a different hue when there’s an economic value attached.

“I’ve seen farm families transform themselves as these skills become businesses,” he says.

What are some of the other farmers’ markets in Winnipeg? “We say that Saturday St. Norbert Famers’ Market is the largest, the Wednesday market is the second and the online is in third,” Veldhuis jokes.

There’s no question that St. Norbert is the largest and most established farmers’ market, but other markets are growing, such as the Red River Farmer’s Market, the Forks Farmers’ Market and Pineridge Hollow Farmers’ Market.

As more Winnipeggers want to know more about their food and products, farmers’ markets will continue to grow. An increasing number of people want to know the hens that laid their eggs were free to roam and weren’t confined to cages. They want to know what ingredients go into goat milk soap. They may even want to visit the farm to see how a producer treats his or her cattle.

Seasonal farmers’ markets give Winnipeggers that opportunity and now the online market will allow consumers to get the foods and wares they love year round and the sales will be good for local farmers and artisans.