Gems in the rough
Dirt won’t necessarily do a body good, but the good that comes out of it will.
If you’re not into growing your own food, or you are but can’t wait for harvest season, the plethora of farmers’ markets in and around town is your best bet for locally grown produce.
But, with ‘Make it! Bake it! Grow it!’ as the mandate for the Alberta Farmers’ Market Association (AFMA), there’s far more to find at these markets than just produce.
Unlike public markets—think Granville Island in Vancouver or Jean Talon market in Montreal—Alberta farmers’ markets are regulated and include a commercial kitchen extension policy.
“You can start a food business from your home kitchen and sell at farmers’ markets, which is what makes us so interesting and why you get little old ladies making wicked jam,” says AFMA president Johwanna Alleyne, herself a vendor with Mojo Jojo Pickles.
Recently, at its annual conference and awards ceremony held in Olds, AB, AFMA recognized some of the outstanding farmers’ market vendors, including this year’s community builders, Fruits of Sherbrooke. The not-for-profit organization aligns with the ‘make it’ approach and the ever-growing group has a ongoing impact on their community and food security in Edmonton.
Sherbrooke residents Carol Cooper and Christina Piecha began discussing the vast amounts of discarded and neglected fruit in the neighbourhood at the height of summer and thoughts of what could be done with it quickly evolved. Al Cosh soon got on board and Fruits of Sherbrooke was born six years ago. The three partners shared tasks to facilitate an operation where more than 50 varieties of exotic jams, jellies, chutneys and sauces, all based on rescued fruit, are now made and sold at markets and local retailers.
The profits pay for rent at the community kitchen they use, as well as labelling and packaging, which extends to products for Fruit Stars—a program where applesauce tubes, dried fruit snacks and fruit leather are made and distributed to school lunch programs. This partnership is with E4C and the University of Alberta’s Unwind Your Mind program, which encourages stress-busting and wellness practices for students—including healthy eating—at this trying time of year.
As Al Cosh, one of the founders, told AFMA, “The cycle is closed. We pick here, we produce here, it’s eaten here and any of our profit goes back into our local community.”
Alleyne seconds the sentiment, insisting keeping businesses local is the key to sustainability in consumer habits.
With nearly 20 various farmers’ markets in and around Edmonton, there’s no end to the innovative and high-quality products available to those willing to look.