The annual Red Deer Farmer's Market has come and gone. Six months ago we began our Saturday morning pilgrimages down the Spruce Drive bike lanes, into the free bike lockup, and off into the morass of human flesh; searching for lemonade, coffee, fish tacos, carrots, beans, hummus, cabbage, and any other locally-made, locally-grown food we could fit in our mouths and in our backpacks. Aside from food, we don't buy much at the market. We don't need weeders or pottery, carved furniture or lawn ornaments. We have our favourite vendors: Innisfail growers for Beck Farm's carrots, KJs for lemonade. Shan and I eat breakfast at the 'Stache trailer and the kids eat waffles from Victoria Waffles (local and scratch made is better than franchised and mix).
We have our route through the market and it rarely changes. The bikes go into the lockup and we wander down the first aisle, weaving our way up and down the rows, dodging wagons and baby strollers, mobility-chairs and wobbly toddlers. We aren't in a hurry. Our friends are there ready to stop, let the traffic flow around and through our group, and have a chat. There's coffee to get to down the driveway and Foui's banter to go along with his hummus.
Despite plans and promises to get together "one of these days" we only saw our friend Peter and his girls at the market; five times. Each time making plans that never really seemed to come together in the busyness of summer. If it wasn't for our Saturday morning routine, we'd have never seen him.
There was some evolution to our market mornings this year. Our son got his first job: Making and selling kettlecorn with the crew at KJs. Our daughter rode up all the hills on her bike, without needing to stop and walk. Toward the end of August the candidates for Mayor, Council, and the two school boards started staking out their spots. Some clinging to corners like a ship at anchor never wavering in their choice of space. Others like Cindy Jefferies, were more fluid. You never knew where Cindy was going to have her booth. The candidates brought new people into the market and new conversation.
That's the magic of the Red Deer Farmer's market. There are few other places in the City that I feel such a sense of connection to my fellow Red Deerians. Each weekend 20,000 of us wander in the cool morning air, and create a shared experience of what it means to be a community. For five and a half glorious hours, on 26 consecutive Saturdays we put our differences aside. We don't bicker about bike lanes and spending, accountability and development. We just "be". We light up when we see our friends, get a jolt from that first sip of coffee, get nourished by the food and conversation we take in, and make each others' Saturdays start off just right. Spontaneous plans for barbecues, firepits, parties, drinks, dates, are made at the market. Market mornings are loaded with the potential for weekend fun, unimagined the night before.
The Market is the manifestation of how I envision the future of Red Deer. It's dense yet happy. It's commerce but it's simple. It's conversation not accusation. It's multicultural and traditional. It's familiar and exotic. It's bikes and cars and transit and pedestrians and skate boards and strollers. It's got room for everybody. Nobody has ever been told "I'm sorry it's full", and been turned away from the market. At the market there's always room for one more; one more person, one more great idea, one more voice.
With winter on the horizon and snow already being made at the ski hill, my family will have other Saturday morning traditions; skiing, snowshoeing, and winter biking. However in a couple of weeks we'll have eaten the last of the kettle corn, and the carrot bag will be getting low. In a month or two the honey will be purchased from the store, and the only time we'll feel the push and pull of the human wave is the rare occasion when we venture into *shudder, the mall. And we'll grow wistful.
We'll miss our market community. No longer able to just bump into our fellows and friends, we'll need to make plans and do "things". Our winters become scheduled and our interactions become less fluid, more separate from the flow. Our community becomes a little more detached.
I've traveled all over Canada, and the States, and through east Africa. No place I've been in North America has a market like we do. Sure there are lots of other Farmers' Markets out there, but Red Deer's just feels special. It makes us one. It makes us whole.