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September 01, 2008

Going local: Calgary’s lesser-known farmers’ markets

Calgary’s farm team beefing up in the ’burbs

Michelle Lindstrom

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Calgary’s lesser-known farmers’ markets carry many interesting and local items worth a bit of hands-on research by city shoppers.

Although eco-consciousness has become trendy and somewhat overdone in the consumer and marketing worlds, it is still a good fad many hope will not phase out. Farmers’ markets hold a key place in the new green movement—despite their being far from new. A community’s carbon footprint is decreased simply by its market’s support of locally grown (or made) products, and reduced demand for imports and fuel consumption needed to get those items to local stores. 

Four Calgary locations, slightly pared and less famous than, say, the Calgary Farmers’ Market, show character through miss-matched tents, homemade signs and borrowed tables. It’s hard not to get the urge to cheer for the little guy with a trip to one.

Sprouting up just recently, the communities of McKenzie Towne and South Fish Creek stuck their thumbs in the once-a-week outdoor market pie. Also securing parking lot space for a few hours a week is the Grassroots Northland Farmers’ Market, a 15-year-plus veteran of the once-a-week outdoor market game. The Sweetgrass Market is a brand-new indoor venue continually gaining new vendors and taking on the Wednesday-through-Sunday crowds. 

McKenzie Towne Farmers’ Market

Runs June 5 to September 25 on Thursdays, 3:30 p.m. 

to 7:30 p.m. 40 McKenzie Towne Boulevard S.E. 

(behind McKenzie Towne Hall)

Located in the cute southeast community of McKenzie Towne, home of an east coast- inspired front street and one of Calgary’s few traffic circles, take your third exit off the round-about and find the market behind Towne Hall to your left. Some parking along the main—and busy—road is valid, but the bank and other businesses to the right have parking available, too. “There was a need for a market in our neighbourhood,” explains Matthew Stuart, the market manager and program co-ordinator. “People were driving to Millarville or the Calgary Farmers’ Market.”

At maximum capacity for this year, 30 vendors greet approximately 400 visitors each week with stands of jewelry, Ukrainian food, jam, coffee, paintings, fruit and more. Stuart happily says the turnout has been great since they started up June 5.

Pearsons Berry Farm sells homemade pies, jams, tarts and syrup made from their home base—30 minutes west of Bowden. This berry connoisseur vendor also sets up in the Bearspaw, Dickson Dam and Sylvan Lake markets. “I’m all over the place,” says Evan Mertin, son of the owners at Pearsons Berry Farm, Deb and Dwayne Mertin.

Worms @ Work owners Pat and Mark Allen sell vermicomposting (worm composting) bins, worms, rain barrels and finished vermicompost in the McKenzie Towne and Northlands markets and online ( Pat explains they are “changing the world one worm at a time,” with seminars at local schools, market stands and a book they endorse, Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. Pat says “These bins are very suitable for condos,” explaining vermicomposting can be done indoors, and if all the compost cannot be used by those with only typical condo-sized balcony pots or no garden at all, the Allens will harvest compost as an added service to clients. Details are available on their website.

“We see that consumers want to know where their food comes from, and this provides advantages for our customers, but also our producers who have a chance to sell directly to the customers, and educate them at the same time,” says Stuart. “For me it is most important for our producers—the small producers need support to compete with the big boys, and our market provides an opportunity for that.”

South Fish Creek Recreation Association Farmers’ Market

Runs June 20 to September 19 on Fridays 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. 333 Shawville Boulevard S.E. (South Arena Lot of South Fish Creek Complex)

Set off to the side of the athletic-based parking lot of the South Fish Creek complex and Shawnessy YMCA, this open market varies in number of vendors from 12 to 20, depending on the week and weather. The lot is sized to hold many more vendors as word spreads of this local market full of art, popcorn, patio planters, special teas and fresh produce.

Jenn Kwok is the owner and late-night baker for The Cookie Shack. “Everything I make is from scratch,” she explains, glancing at her watch to figure out how many hours of sleep she had since finishing her last batch of sweet goodies the night before. Kwok started baking about eight years ago, making cakes for friends’ and co-workers’ events, then decided to venture into the markets at Fish Creek and McKenzie Towne this year. “It’s been going quite well so far,” she says with a big smile, joking with her neighbouring vendor and friend from Coco Brooks. 

Coco Brooks General Manager of Calgary’s two pizza restaurant locations, Travis Mclellan says, “I work about 70 hours a week.” That time is split between overseeing the stores, McKenzie Towne and South Fish Creek Farmers’ Market stands and the company’s expansion into a few city schools. The workload is tough right now, but he joined the farmers’ market adventure to gain some exposure for the company and sees the venues reaching people who don’t already know about their pizza product.

Grassroots Northland Farmers’ Market

Runs June 10 to September 23 on Tuesdays 

3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. 5111 Northland Drive N.W. 

(Southeast lot of Northland Village Mall)

Spanning over numerous parking stalls adjacent Northland Drive—this large and experienced outdoor market has a variety of goods for patrons to buy including Polish breads, dog treats, CDs, honey, flowers, spice rubs and meat pies just to name a few. 

Three Sisters Pies Ltd. travels the markets of Bearspaw, Millarville and McKenzie Towne in addition to Northland. Owner Deanna Reger has spent four years in farmers’ markets and says, “People are fiercely loyal.” Her first year of business was all about product development, where customers told her exactly what they thought about her fruit pies, jams and preserves—good or bad. But, as soon as she got it right, they kept coming back. This is her first year becoming completely organic while continuing her practice to support and use only local supplies from ethical farmers. explains the relationship of squash, corn and beans, leading to the term “The Three Sisters” (completely unrelated to the Rocky Mountains), but also describes Reger’s products and costs as well.

My Bread Of Calgary is a long-standing vendor in Farmers’ markets, getting involved in Millarville, McKenzie Towne, Bearspaw, Red Deer, Lacombe and Northland over the past 17 years. Owners, Sandi and Fernando Pinto started up their business as hat makers, until four years later they were rained out, getting Sandi thinking of other things. “We needed something not weather-related,” she says, explaining food is a comfort people are still willing to buy in almost any type of weather, unlike hats. From a family recipe absent of trans fat, eggs, nuts and dairy, the two started making a variety of breads for the market. Their bread biz took off a few years ago after taking a customer’s advice to post signs about their products’ lack of ingredients—eggs, nuts and dairy—drawing in many with food allergies who’d previously passed them by.

Sweetgrass Market

Runs year-round Wednesday to Friday 9 a.m. 

to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 875 85 St. S.W. (West Springs Village shopping complex)

This charming contemporary and evolving indoor market started up June 14 and boasts the mantra it is “transforming communities through food.” With eight vastly-different vendors currently up and running and space for about seven more, this market is set for success with high-quality items for sale and re-loadable gift cards, which can be used at any Sweetgrass vendor.

“Market growth is booming around the world,” says Anne Lambert, creator and owner of Sweetgrass Market. “Being from Toronto, I find Calgary in the dark ages with food. Calgary is a large enough city to now have a full-time (market).”

Lambert sets the bar high for vendors. “First I’m looking for local entrepreneurs, then high- quality food items,” she explains. “The more local they can be the better (but) I want it also to be international—cheeses, fruits from Columbia.”

Aly Punja is part owner of A Touch of India, with his mother Fariel Rashid who started the business from her home years ago. They also have a kitchen in Glendale Plaza for take-out meals and catering. Punja says their Sweetgrass focus is “curries to go” with ready-to-serve meals, but they are gradually adding more variety to the market stand as they get a better feel for what the retail market is like. He says theirs differs from other Indian fare in Calgary, characterizing it as East-African influenced home-style fare. Traffic is slowly picking up and Punja says the response has been fantastic. “It’s a nice alternative,” he says in regards to the area’s shopping options.

Tiffany Smith, store manager of the Headless Chef couldn’t say enough about the food that owners Cade Mass and Jennifer LeCaine make for their Okotoks’s café location as well as the new one at Sweetgrass Market stand. “Our hummus is phenomenal,” Smith says based on numerous customer compliments. “Our Creole seafood chowder sells out a lot too.” She proudly describes their ability to cater to various allergies with a simple phone call to LeCaine for a specially-made order. The chef’s frozen, vacuum-packed complete meals are boiled right in their packaging and ready in only five to 15 minutes. “They’re perfect for people on the go,” says Smith. 

“My favourite part is the access I have to better quality food ingredients because of the merchants who are in Sweetgrass Market,” LeCaine says. “We buy raw ingredients from Red Barn Bakery, Springbank Cheese, Valta Bison (and) The Candy Kid.” Visit for more details.

Whatever the motivation is—helping the environment or rallying behind local entrepreneurs—farmers’ markets are a fun way to spend the day and explore things an average mall or grocery store doesn’t offer. For a list of the numerous farmers’ markets in and around the city, visit


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