Twenty five years ago, Kelly Mastel was promoted to produce manager at the 13th Avenue South Country Coop.
One of the first orders of business was to partner with nearby farmers and horticulturalists to supply the retailer with cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, squash and root vegetables.
“I knew there were some suppliers just down the road growing a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes,” says Mastel. “I thought why not support the local economy?”
Fast forward 25 years and consumers can’t get enough of local food.
According to a recent study conducted by R.A. Malatest & Associates Ltd for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, food sales at farmers’ markets, farm retail and restaurants serving local food in Alberta exceeded $1.5 billion in 2016 and will average 3% growth through 2020.
All of which is good news for Southeast Alberta.
The region has a 100-year history of greenhouse vegetable production and is home to one of Canada’s largest greenhouse clusters. All told, the region accounts for 70% of Alberta’s greenhouse production.
Which is not to mention that Medicine Hat is in the heart of Alberta’s beef industry. Local companies including Medicine Hat Meat Traders, Skinny’s Smokehouse and Ghostriders Smokehouse have plans to expand their product availability to store shelves across Canada.
“The barbecue sauces are handcrafted and have a very unique taste profile,” says Wagner of Skinny’s and Ghostriders. “It’s difficult to find something similar to that from the larger brands.”
Local food not only tastes better. It’s good for the local economy. According to Rod MacRae, a food policy expert, every dollar spent on local food shifts $5.20 to the local economy.
“People are looking for local products and are willing to pay a little extra, provided that we are supplying them with a good quality item,” says Wagner.