It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone.
The city’s pop-up Farm Stand program is back this year and bigger than ever with eight partners spread over two dozen locations to bring locally grown food into more communities while providing support to local farmers.
As the city’s food systems planner explains, the initiative is all part of improving access to healthy food options under the Calgary Eats Food Action Plan implemented by city council in 2012.
“The objective of the strategy is to help build a more sustainable resilient food system,” Kristi Peters explains, adding that includes supporting community gardens and urban farms.
“That also means finding more places to sell local and regional food and then encouraging Calgarians to purchase and consume more local food.”
The three pillars of the program to create a more sustainable and resilient food system are by growing more food, selling more food, and supporting the local food system. The city’s farm stand program falls under that.
“It’s really about finding more places to sell local food so that the smaller growers in our region and the urban growers have more opportunities to sell their food. Then actually placing the food in communities or in places around our city where there’s a lot of traffic,” Peters says.
That’s why c-train stations are ideal, as well as community associations right in the communities themselves.
The program launched in 2017 as a partnership with Calgary Transit to place several farm stands at select train stations, modelled after a successful initiative in Toronto.
“I thought it was such a great idea. There are so many small local growers that have a hard time finding places to sell their food, or they can’t get into big-box retail stores,” says Peters.
The first year of the program saw farm stands located at three c-train stations, growing to seven stations in 2018.
“Most stations see 50,000 people a day — and it was very successful up until COVID,” she says, adding that transit ridership faced a steep decline due to the stay-at-home orders.
“That was the point in the program where we pivoted from only doing the c-train stations to finding other city-owned properties in all four quadrants of the city where we could locate farm stands.”
Community Association halls, leisure centres, and city-owned arenas and pools were all considered.
Hungry for more farm stands
Because the pandemic took a chunk out of sales for local farmers, they were hungry for more locations to sell their food.
The program grew from nine locations in 2020 to 20 in 2021 and now there are 26 locations this summer.
“There’s been tremendous growth, and we’ve had amazing, positive feedback from all of the locations that the community loves it. It’s like when you visit a farm, it feels like a community,” Peters says.
“They’re visiting with the farmers and getting that farmers market experience, but it’s more personalized because it’s only the one farmer and it’s right in your community.”
Now, the biggest challenge is finding enough growers and farmers to serve the needs of the communities, a sign of the popularity of the program. In fact, 44 communities reached out to request a farm stand for their neighbourhood.
A good problem to have
The city couldn’t fulfil all of the requests.
“Our vendors are at full capacity for the program, so we actually need more farmer vendors if we want to continue to grow the program,” Peters adds.
She believes some farmers in and around Calgary simply may not know about the program. The city is working to get the word out and find more growers to participate.
“The big key message is that we’re bringing locally grown food right into communities and making it more convenient for Calgarians to buy local food,” Peters says, adding you don’t necessarily have to jump into your car to drive to get the food but exploring other communities is an option.
“It’s not just about attending the ones in your community; our hope is that people will visit various stands … because they carry slightly different products and the setup is different. It’s fun to visit different growers.”
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