Those that frequent the bustling Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market choose from more than 130 vendors in a comfortable, indoor setting. However, just 40 years ago, this was not the case. When the market started it was an open-air event located in the nearby parking lot.
“In 1983, the local business association put an ad in the Edmonton Journal appealing for a farmers’ market for economic development,” says Keith Persaud, manager. “This led to the first market and for the first few years, it operated out of the parking lot.”
It wasn’t long, however, before vendors were eyeing the empty bus barn that shadowed their stalls.
“About five years after the market launched, it moved into the building – and that is where things got interesting,” Persaud reminisces. “The building was cold. It had no heat! It was also leaking and needed extensive renovations. There was nothing in the building.”
He continues, “Over the past 40 years a lot has been done to make the market into the destination it is today. The Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market Society put in bathrooms, windows, lighting, renovated the roof, installed heating – but we did not want to put the burden on the City of Edmonton for any of that. We are a society and not for profit, but we never once asked the taxpayers to fund the building’s upgrades.”
Yet it is the taxpayers, and thousands of tourists every year, that enjoy the building along with over 130 vendors. It’s not uncommon for about 10,000 people to pass through the doors any given Saturday and there is a waiting list of vendors who are eager to adopt a stall.
It’s easy to see why.
The beautifully renovated brick building is charming and a landmark in Old Strathcona. Perched on the street’s corner and with ample parking nearby, it’s an easy destination to get to by car, foot or transit. Once inside, shoppers are greeted with every type of good imaginable, from locally farmed meat and produce to leather goods, clothing, bookbinding, food from around the world, honey, beers, wines and spirits, baking, jewelry and so much more.
“When you enter the market,” Persaud explains, “you immediately get a snapshot of Edmonton – a service-oriented, friendly, energetic, entrepreneur-driven, diverse city. It’s a boutique shopping experience, far removed from what consumers experience in big box retail or chain stores. You’ll see seniors browsing, families making a day of it, couples holding hands – it also makes for a great Saturday morning date!”
From his own experience before he joined the team two years ago, Persaud says ruefully, “When you come here, you don’t know what you need until you see it. Then you are like, ‘how did I live without that’? Within an hour of arriving I’d have three bags of goods… and now I manage the place!”
Although he has spearheaded some strategic decisions about the space, including covering the ceiling in flags representing the many nationalities of the vendors and shoppers, Persaud says, “This venue has a life of its own. Our job is to make sure it is clean and the lights are on, and then people just come to enjoy it.”
However, that’s a humble view of his and his team’s past work and long-term vision for the market and its historic building. There are big plans underway that will dramatically change the impact of the space.
“It is a critical time for the market,” Persaud shares. “We are looking to activate the building itself seven days a week and increase the market to run more than once a week. The plan is to turn the building into a hub, event space and general store. Some of the things we are working on are cultural markets, a night market, cooking events and upgrades to support private events. There is no other market like this right now in the country; our plans will add value to Edmonton’s business community, hotels and tourism sector.”
No matter how many beneficial changes take place, the soul of this market will always be easily identified. After all, despite some vendors retiring, such as Gramma Bear’s Home Baking who kept hungry customers coming back for 35 years, many of the vendors that started in the parking lot are on their second generation. Entire brands and businesses have grown in the market and it hosts some of the most recognizable names in the cottage industry, including Riverbend Gardens, Rainbow Acres, Maplewood Acres, Birds & Bees Winery, Taste of Ethiopia and Holden Colony – to name just a few.
The farms, wineries and distillers, in particular, have attracted the attention of Edmonton’s best chefs.
Persaud says, “We have so many great chefs in the city that shop the market so they can create specials for their menus.” This, of course, really helps drive the shop local, sustainable and farm-to-table trends that empower communities to thrive.
“If you have yet to visit the market, come on out! If you are a regular, thank you. We always love to see you,” he continues. “Sometimes on a Saturday I just come out of my office and watch the crowds come through the door and I can’t believe how smoothly it all happens.”
He heaps praise on his team for enabling the market to run smoothly every weekend, the community for its endless support, the City of Edmonton that took a chance on the market’s transition to indoors so many years ago and every single shopper that has enjoyed, what he calls, “the vibe.”
Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market already has one award nomination under its belt for being a favourite Edmonton destination and as plans for the hub and additional markets get underway, the popularity of the site will only increase. This is a market – and an experience – like no other. So, don’t miss out.
The market is active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
10310 83 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB T6E 5C3
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