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Farm fresh is an alternative option for inflation-strapped Calgary consumers

Cut out the middleman and deal directly with farmers.

For consumers looking for a way to battle the inflationary prices of groceries, that difference in the prices and quality of vegetables can save on produce bills.

“If you cut out the middleman and you’re dealing directly with the farmers, you’re able to get those price cuts that you don’t normally get when you’re dealing with kind of like the bigger chains,” said Nicole Schon, general manager for the Crossroads Market.

This year the market has brought in more than a dozen different farms and Hutterite colony vendors to sell their produce on weekends throughout the summer.

Those price cuts come with some caveats, however, said Schon. One of those caveats being that produce growers in B.C. and Alberta don’t always have every type of produce in season.

What you won’t find, she said, was internationally delivered or warehouse-stored produce. Consumers who are willing to have fewer options, the result is less expensive and tastier food.

“Ultimately, if you think about it, we should eat from where we reside. When you get a product that didn’t have to travel as far, or has a growing season that you’re used to as like as a human being, then you’re gonna get the product that best suits you,” Schon said.

For comparison, organic B.C. cherries can be purchased on weekends regularly for $4.99 per lb., versus $7.99 per pound for the same product in chain stores, not on sale.

Gurmeet Chahal, who owns Season’s Best Produce Limited out of Oliver, B.C., said that the combination of providing good value for consumers, along with better produce was exciting for him as a farmer.

“Buying from like a chain store, you know, flavor-wise, you don’t get as much flavor as the fresh ones,” said Chahal.

“Like my peaches. People have called it 360 degrees peaches; when you eat it, you have to bend it down because all the juice will fall on you.”

At the same time, he said, the decision to sell directly to consumers in Alberta was an economic one—cutting out the middleman means he is able to take more money home.

Growth of farmers markets good for consumers, but it changes expectations

One thing that Schon said would be different for consumers this year was a direct change as a result of climate change and drought.

“I think that a lot of times like when you come to the farmers market, people have an expectation of getting these like ginormous boxes of things, and I think you’re gonna see some smaller boxes,” she said.

“Just be mindful that it is shorter growing season, and that there was a lot of drought.”

Chahal said that this year has been extraordinary for farmers, with temperatures ranging from lows of -31 to near 50 Celsius.

“I have been there for the last 32 years, and I’ve never seen that kind of weather. All the people, they lost their crops, plus some of them lost trees too,” Chahal said.

“To compete with that weather, and to get that produce out of that weather, it’s really challenging.”

He said that farmers like him have turned to changing the way they are planting crops. Peppers are being planted much closer to provide cross shade, and cherry trees are being pruned less so the cherries don’t burn in the sun.

“You learn from the weather every time,” Chahal said.

Schon said that the growth of the number of farmers markets in the city, including the new Calgary Farmer’s Market in the northwest and direct delivery markets like Fresh Routes, were ultimately good for consumers.

That competitiveness she said was translating into direct benefits for her customers.

“We welcome that as well. But we’ve been around for 36 years, and there’s a reason why we’ve been around for 36 years,” Schon said.

“We deal with handshakes with our B.C. farmers and all of our vendors. We have 122 vendors, and some of them have been with us for over 20 years.”