Get to know your farmer at Moose Jaw's first local food hub
Food producers can sell or trade products to the Wandering Market, which then resells them to the public
Nadine Lee has devoted the last decade of her life to making partnerships between urban dwellers and those growing, making and producing food.
In so doing, she's also helping small farms and producers become economically viable.
"Food is a really great way for people to get back their connection that we've really been separated from," she said.
Lee and her partner, Michael Neuman, recently opened the doors to the Wandering Market, the first local food hub in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Anyone who's tried it knows: marketing is expensive and time consuming. Farmers and food producers can sell or trade their products to the Wandering Market, which then resells them the public.
"The farms need help," said Lee. "A long time ago, when people were farming, it would've been whole families. They would've had all those resources of knowledge and equipment."
The Wandering Market has been running for years in Moose Jaw, but as of June, it has a large space on Athabasca Street to call home.
A grocery store is open Wednesday to Sunday selling seasonal produce, meat, eggs, dairy items, pickled and fermented products, preserves, tea, coffee, noodles, raw honey, grains and pulses. Lee's kimchi and sauerkraut are also in store. She makes the fermented products from local vegetables.
It's not your typical grocery store. The hub concept goes deeper than a place to buy and sell food.
Renovations to transform the space into a community gathering spot are underway. An upper-level area will host cooking, canning and fermenting workshops.
"We're learning how to use these foods," said Lee.
She also organizes family-friendly farm visits to take the farm-to-fork concept one step further. You can even sign up to help butcher chickens.
'I need to eat all the local food!'
A connection to food was firmly planted in Lee's childhood. Her mom is Saulteaux and grew up fishing and hunting on her Manitoba reserve.
Lee's dad often took the children to visit his mom. She taught Lee how to can and preserve the garden harvest every fall.
Lee said that food connection "was really deeply rooted into him and then into us as well."
The roots for the Wandering Market were planted over 10 years ago. Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life inspired Lee. The 2007 book chronicled the author and her family's attempt to eat only what they grew or sourced locally for one year.
"I thought, 'I need to do this! I need to eat all the local food!'" said Lee.
Lee was living in Gravelbourg, Sask., when she began her local food hunt for her family. Lee said she discovered there were "tons of people growing food and it was so underappreciated. People were trying to do it for a living [and] weren't able to get a good price for it in the small towns."
Lee and Neuman moved the family to Moose Jaw and began the venture in a small shop with a back-alley entrance. The couple would take orders and deliver – even to Saskatoon and Regina. They still make deliveries to both cities.
'I want it to be done right'
When she lived in Gravelbourg, Lee started a fermentation business with Keirsten Eva.
Eva now operates Culture Mother – an online store for probiotic cultures. Her products are also sold at the Wandering Market.
Eva said the market has helped many small food-based businesses thrive.
"You sometimes feel like you're dragging a little bit to [sell] that product or to find people [that] value that product. When you eliminate finding customers and marketing … you can focus just on creating amazing product."
Lee said people are excited to see the new space take shape in Moose Jaw.
"I've had people showing up at the door saying, 'What can I do to help?'"
Since she and Neuman are doing most of the work themselves, there's no timeline on the official completion date.
"I want it to be done right," she said.
Jenn Sharp is a freelance writer travelling the province this year in search of stories that connect us to the people growing and making our food.
If you're a baker, beekeeper, butcher, charcutier, cheesemaker, chocolatier, coffee roaster, craft brewer, distiller, farmer, farm-to-table chef, fishmonger, forager, market gardener, miller or orchardist in Saskatchewan, she wants to hear from you.
Her research will be compiled into the ultimate Saskatchewan food guide: Flat Out Delicious: Food Artisans of Saskatchewan. The book will be published by Touchwood Editions in spring 2020.