Nov 30, 2020

Manitoba-wide

Hearty Local Food Warms Up a Manitoba Winter

Story by Susan Peters Photo by Gabrielle Touchette Photography

Creative cooks may be dreaming of farm-fresh eggs, a side of grass-fed beef, pastured pork, trout jerky, quinoa, raw honey, tender greenhouse vegetables or pies made from frozen saskatoons—just some of the local foods available in a Manitoba winter. 

The Prairie specialties are part of an ongoing trend toward local food. “In 2020, there was an uptick in interest in buying local,” says Kristie Beynon, the executive director of Direct Farm Manitoba, a cooperative of farmers’ markets and farmers who sell direct to consumers across the province. “We import so much of our food, and people were looking at the stability of the food chain and looking for more ways to shop local.”

When life paused in March 2020 for Covid-19, local farmers and producers still wanted to reach their customers. To connect customers with the foods they crave, Direct Farm Manitoba launched an interactive map in July 2020  to help buyers find local food options. Those options include over 125 direct marketing farms that sell goods to shoppers at the farm, offer home delivery, or where a producer arranges to meet customers at a central pickup location. 

Farm e-commerce 

Throughout the spring and summer, through federal funding, Direct Farm Manitoba helped farms increase their online presence, expand their e-commerce capabilities, and provided assistance for pandemic-related expenses, such as handwashing stations at u-pick strawberry farms.

Meanwhile, Direct Farm Manitoba was helping its farmer’s markets to weather the pandemic. Four markets moved online to provide both in person and online shopping. Most markets opened in late June following Manitoba health and safety guidelines, such as increased cleaning and handwashing stations, and monitored entrances and exits. “The money Manitobans are spending at their local farmers’ market is going into the pockets of local makers, bakers and growers, and then that money gets recirculated in the local economy,” says Beynon.

While most farmers’ markets are open only for the outdoor season, shoppers hungry for local food in the winter months can still place orders directly with farms for current products, or plan for the season ahead by ordering a weekly share of a farm’s vegetables during the summer (CSA) or meat shares.

Open year-round at St. Norbert

Producers from dozens of small Manitoba towns bring their products to Winnipeg to sell at the year-round Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market. When the pandemic struck in March of this year, the market promptly added an online shopping option to compliment the on-site market. As of December 2020, the market sells essential products like food, soap, sanitizing supplies, baby clothes, masks and winter clothing like mittens from over 75 producers.  Over 60 Manitoba producers also offer their products on the market’s online market, with both essential and non-essential items. “Our market offers a great opportunity to support local, with thousands of Manitoba-made products available. About the only thing we don’t have is toilet paper,” jokes Marilyn Firth, the market’s Executive Director.

If shoppers are seeking a favourite vendor, they can consult the vendor lists on social media and the market website to check who will be found under the canopy at 3514 Pembina Avenue (to reduce capacity, vendors alternate their market days), and online.  Markets run Saturdays and Sundays 10-2 until December 20th. Starting in January, check the market website for an updated winter schedule. 

St. Norbert also offers contactless pickup for online orders, so customers can order online from multiple vendors, drive up, and staff will place their order in the trunk. 

Firth says fewer tourists and summer visitors hurt sales for vendors in 2020, although food sellers found their loyal customers were making larger purchases to fill their pantries, and vendors supported one another, purchasing for themselves, and for materials to use in their products. “Here, everything is made, baked and grown in Manitoba. We have an unexpected jewel here in that our farmers’ market is completely local, and that means when you purchase here, you are confident you are supporting Manitoba’s small businesses.”

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