Through depressions and pandemics, Edmonton Downtown Farmer’s Market has staying power

The Edmonton Downtown Farmer’s Market (EDFM) is older than the city it’s named after. Originally founded in 1903 as the Rice Street Market, Edmonton’s original farmer’s market has been a fixture downtown through world wars, depressions, and most recently, COVID-19.

And for Dieter Kuhlmann, chair of the market’s board of directors, knowing where your food comes from is more important than ever.

“People today are used to hearing about a lot of the contamination of food coming in from far away that they have no control over. If they come to [EDFM], they get to know the person that they’re dealing with, they get to find out their pedigree, what they do and how they handle things,” says Kuhlmann.

The EDFM, which recently relocated to the Great West Garment (GWG) building (10305 97 St.), is home to more than 80 vendors selling produce, meat, alcohol, and merchandise. Sherry Horvath, who sells meat and eggs at her Sunshine Organic Farms booth, echoes Kuhlmann’s sentiments about the important role the market plays in the community.

“You don’t get to meet the people who are growing your food. If you ask a [grocery store] employee how long it takes a baby chick to turn into a hen, they would look at you with a blank stare,” she says. Horvath firmly supports a farm to table relationship, especially during a time when transmission potential is on everyone’s mind.

This isn’t the first tumultuous time for the market, as it’s endured a previous pandemic, world wars, and several moves over the decades. When it first opened in 1903, vendors would erect stalls every Saturday on the lot where the Edmonton Public Library’s Stanley A. Milner branch now stands. In 2004, they moved to their 104 Street location, and in 2011 the market became a year-round fixture, moving inside City Hall during winter months, which continued until the move in 2019.

“It was quite an upheaval. We had a very successful, very busy market on 104 Street,” says Kuhlmann, who has been with the market since the 1960s as a vendor, as one of the co-founders of Kuhlmann’s Market Gardens.

The EDFM’s transition to its new home in the GWG building was rocky—issues with permits led to the market’s grand opening being delayed for several weeks. But the move wasn’t without benefits. The EDFM’s new home is within The Quarters, and as that area of Edmonton continues to be redeveloped, the advantage of the market’s new home will be evident.

“We are probably just a little ahead of the crunch,” says Kuhlmann. “Eventually, this is going to be a very beautiful area, with parks and everything. Next to our market, we have 1,000 parking spots that are free of charge. Parking downtown is like antiques: you can’t find it.”

He also stressed the importance of having a grocer within walking distance; the area around the farmer’s market doesn’t have many supermarkets.

The EDFM remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic but is working with Alberta Health Services under strict sanitation regulations. The EDFM is open Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For Horvath, continuing to serve the community even during the pandemic goes beyond food.

“Farmer’s markets are really social gathering places,” says Horvath, who says she isn’t worried about the temporary elimination of buskers and social distancing protocols. “People are socially distanced, and there aren’t any places to sit and stay. That’s one thing that is different, but people understand and respect that. People are happy— they’re enjoying their time here.”

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