Road Trip: Farmers’ Markets and Festivals

We always hit up at least one farmers’ market when we’re in Calgary – this time, we visited two.

The first stop was the Kingsland Farmers’ Market, which I wrote about back in April. Since our last visit, they’ve been setting up tents outside to take advantage of the warmer weather.


Gorgeous tomatoes

Field Stone Fruit Winery

Spotted the new Field Stone Fruit Wine labels – snazzy!

It’s always a treat to see Mary Ellen (of Greens, Eggs and Ham). Since they set up shop at Kingsland, we pretty much only see her when we’re down in Calgary! We also look forward to picking up Rustic Sourdough Bakery’s pretzels rolls – will someone in Edmonton make these, please?

Kingsland Farmers' Market

I like the idea of a “specials” board, though this one is a little hard to read

We then drove down to the new location of the Calgary Farmers’ Market (CFM), which wasn’t quite ready when we were last down. Though I am frustrated sometimes with how Edmonton is such a car-centric city, in this instance, we do fare better – at least our two largest farmers’ markets (City Market and Old Strathcona) are situated centrally, easily accessible by LRT and/or main bus routes.

At the special City Market meeting called earlier this year to help determine the direction of the year-round venue, the consultant showed photographs of the CFM, using it as a prime example of what permanent stalls could look like. As a result, Mack and I were eager to see what it looked like in person.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Calgary Farmers’ Market

At first glance, the CFM is everything a market should be: bright, bustling, with wide aisles and clear signs. There was an expansive seating area as well, and high tables perfect for resting coffee upon while browsing. The “rustic” wood frame around each stall looked perhaps a little too polished, but I appreciated the aesthetic they were going for.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Busy place

There was also a great mix of vendors, as expected, from produce to meat and poultry, to dairy and even local grains and oils.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Great dairy case (it was a good excuse to finally try Vital Green Farms’ chocolate milk – it was delicious!)

Highwood Crossing

Loved Highwood Crossing’s tagline: “Canada’s olive oil”

But walking around, it was clear the CFM didn’t have the same feel as the City Market, Old Strathcona, or even Kingsland for that matter. Between the large food court and play area, it resembled more of a shopping mall.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Food court

I’m definitely not against concessions and family-friendly spaces, but it was the first market I’ve ever come across that seemed to want to please everyone. One can only imagine such amenities would be factored into vendors’ rent and maintenance costs.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Play area

Mary Ellen explained to us in the past Calgary’s “one-stop shop” mentality, which results in farmers’ markets carrying everything from lemons to bananas beside the local produce. But at the CFM, there also seemed to be a number of resellers present. This is fine, except that it wasn’t easy to distinguish between producers and resellers – and really, isn’t the point of farmers’ markets for patrons to buy food directly from those who grew it? Sure, some consumers might ask the right questions, but ideally, it should be more intuitive than that.

Calgary Farmers' Market

Innisfail Growers – not a reseller!

In addition, we had to wonder about the viability of a four day market. There’s no question that it is convenient and more accessible, allowing consumers a place to shop for local wares Thursday to Sunday. But because we saw several examples of sad and wilted produce on tables, it seemed some vendors were having challenges ensuring product quality. Perhaps there isn’t adequate on-site cold storage for all who need it? Also, based on the discussion at the City Market meeting in April, we know some producers mentioned that staffing and refreshing a multi-day market would be difficult – for example, who would tend to the farm over that period?

Strawberries from The Jungle Farm

At the end of the day, our visit to CFM just made me think of all the facets of a “modern” year-round market. And with the City Market continuing to explore venues for their own year-round venture, it will be interesting to see what direction they decide to take.

We ended our tour of Calgary that weekend with a visit to 17th Avenue. We ended up stumbling upon the Uptown 17 market and music festival.


Love the colourful chairs!

In the area of neighbourhood branding, we still think Calgary does a better job of that than we do in Edmonton. Let’s hope that the “I ❤ #yegdt” catches on enough for the Downtown Business Association to use it more widely!


Uptown 17 everywhere!

There is always something to do in Edmonton, but the same can be said about Calgary. We’ll be back soon!

7 thoughts on “Road Trip: Farmers’ Markets and Festivals

  1. sharon,

    i dream about the pretzel buns! everytime i go to a new bakery/store with baked goods i look for them! i LOVE them too……maybe its a good thing that they are only in calgary…i’d easily eat a bag a week if i had a source here.

    nom nom nom
    su 🙂

  2. Sharon- I really enjoy and appreciate your periodic reviews and discussions of Edmonton’s farmers markets, particularly the Downtown Farmer’s Market. I, too, am a fan of the local farmer’s markets, especially downtown and St. Albert. I enjoy the variety of markets that we have and appreciate that the area has so many that we can go to during the summer.

    That said, it will be interesting to see if any market association decides to in a different direction over the next few years. Do they maintain status quo and let the “market” (pun intended) decide on how successful each is? Or will any of the markets evolve into something different to suit the needs and wants of both the vendors and consumers?

    As a consumer, I love the variety and the fact that most are outdoor markets. However, I wonder if vendors think that the “market’ is now over-saturated with farmer’s markets and whether temporary outdoor stalls the most cost-effective way to run their business.

    I haven’t been to the new Calgary market, but I can’t help but think about Vancouver’s Granville Island market and Ottawa’s By Market. These are both permanent markets (although not exactly farmer’s markets, by definition).

    With that in mind, is it time for the downtown association (with or without the City) to consider something similar- either an all-year indoor market or something all-year that has a permanent location that integrates the street with permanent stalls (similar to the By Market)?

    I’m not sure which I prefer- the current outdoor downtown market or something more permanent. But, it’s definitely something that should be discussed as the City moves forward with downtown revitalization.

  3. Regarding the examples of Vancouver and Ottawa, whenever I get a chance to visit these cities, the aforementioned markets are always on my list of places to visit. I appreciate the fact that I can visit these markets on almost any given day of the week and year. Granted some of the products sold might not be as fresh as you’d find at a weekly market like Edmonton’s, but the markets themselves are tourist attractions and offer more for visitors than just the fresh produce. There are smaller restaurants, bakeries, gift stores, etc.

    The question that I have is then “Would a permanent market open all-year round and open more times during the week than just Saturday help to attract more people (tourists and locals) downtown?”

    As I think about, if done right in the proper location downtown, this type of market could be really successful.

  4. Of course, many years ago now, the Boardwalk Building had a permanent indoor market. If I recall, it was quite successful for a few years during its tenure. Then, with the economic downturn, it’s successes changed (as when most of downtown took a downturn).

    It would be interesting to talk to someone who was involved with the Boardwalk market and find out if this type of market could ever be successful downtown again.

  5. I was just in Vancouver this weekend and can say it was nice to be able to wander over the the Granville Island Market, but as mentioned, it is not a farmer’s market. It carries many B.C. local products, but most stalls are owned and operated by resellers and there is no direct connection with the farmers. That said, there is a farmer’s market at Granville Island on Thursdays from 9-3, but I can’t say how well that is, how many farmer’s attend and so on.

    I can see that Edmonton may be mature enough for a several day ‘market’, but we would be careful not to really call it a farmer’s market, and ensure that those producers and farmer’s that have made many of our markets successful continue to be directly supported and given opportunity in any plans. I know for the City Market, the proposal and talks this spring cast doubts in my mind of being able to find an affordable space that allows farmer’s to not only have time to produce their food (as Sharon points out), but also sell direct to their customers. This will be an delicate balance to find, and for the time-being I know the City Market has decided to be in City Hall over the winter months. It is a wonderful space, virtually a no cost, and in a central, easily accessible public location.

    It is quite possible Edmonton is ready for a new kind of market, maybe something small business oriented like the Forks in Winnipeg or Granville Island in Vancouver, but it would never replace an actual farmer’s market, nor would I ever want to see it detract from one. I for one love being outdoors in the summer months, rain or shine!

  6. Buddha Pest – you ask some really good questions – who should be responsible for pushing/funding a year-round market? Would a year-round market help as a downtown revitalization project? Would there be enough customers to support a year-round, multi-day market? They’re tough questions, and one that I think should be asked more publicly (and more often) than they have been. Especially because, as you say, with the increase in the number of farmers’ markets now operating in Edmonton. Though I agree with you on farmers’ markets being a tourist destination, I think they should, first and foremost, be designed by and for locals – they are the ones who will sustain the market in the long term. And for producers, they are the bread and butter.

    Chris – I think it’s great that the City Market has signed the two year lease with City Hall. At the very least, it will get shoppers accustomed to the idea of a year-round downtown market. I really do hope people make use of it, which will, in turn, encourage more vendors to participate (chicken-egg, I recognize). It will also be interesting to see, if/when the local food store opens in the Icon, how it will compete/complement the City Market.

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