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The freshest food in town

If you think planting a garden in February, when temperatures fluctuate between minus 20 and minus 40, is impossible, you haven't met Becky Sadlier. All it takes is a wood fire boiler, 20 cords of wood and a greenhouse.
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If you think planting a garden in February, when temperatures fluctuate between minus 20 and minus 40, is impossible, you haven't met Becky Sadlier.

All it takes is a wood fire boiler, 20 cords of wood and a greenhouse.

Since 2001, Sadlier has been running Sun North Ventures in Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, 809 kilometers north of Prince George. And she makes a profit doing it.

Hers is one of a small number of farms in the region that prepare products for the Fort Nelson Outdoor Public Market.

When it opens for its fifth season on Saturday, Sadlier will be selling produce fresh from the gardens she started preparing on Feb. 20, including carrots, romaine lettuce, kale, spinach and rhubarb, as well as bedding plants, hanging baskets, apple pies form locally grown fruit and coffee cakes.

She also has homemade goat's milk bar soap - if you're into that.

"Its very important for local farmers and the public," she said. "By having it once a week, it's a good outlet for me and it makes locally grown food accessible for people in town."

Sadlier, one of several vegetable gardeners, said the market has seen more visitors with each season.

"The market makes people aware that you can actually grow food here," she said. A lot of people think you can't because we're in the Arctic Circle. 'How can you farm?' they ask. But we can.

"For me, we want to make people aware you can get better food at the outdoor farmers' market than at the supermarket."

Other vendors, there are about half a dozen, sell a range of goods from beef and eggs to bread and veggies. There's also jams, soaps, handmade quilts, jewelry, leatherwork, handmade greeting cards, organic herbs and spices.

Vera Soles, the market's coordinator, said shopping locally benefits the local economy, and supports the talents of the people in town.

"It helps to build relationships within the community and foster the sense of belonging in the customers and vendors," she said.

"Buying locally produced foods from vendors at the farmers market helps to build relationships between the customer and the food provider. The customers have an opportunity to learn about how the foods were grown or produced, and what it takes for the farmer to get the foods to the customers' tables."

Soles also thinks supporting local farmers encourages small scale agriculture, which in turn means customers will be getting their food as fresh and in season as possible.

"I would like to see it become important," said Sadlier. "My thinking is I want to encourage people to grow their own food. I would like locally grown food to be important enough that Saturday is designated for going to the market. We have pretty much everything you need right here grown locally. I'd like to see that it be the place where people go to first."

Four hundred kilometres south down Highway 97, the Fort St. John Farmers' Market was celebrating its 30th anniversary last weekend.

The milestone is especially meaningful for a farming community in the midst of a full-on battle with BC Hydro over the flooding of 8,300 acres of class 1 and 2 soil.

The market, held at the Curling Club, isn't just for farmers. On average between 28 to 40 vendors sell everything from pastries, fresh produce, homemade crafts, meat, bedding plants, paintings to homemade furniture.

Margie Unruh, the market's manager, said it's been so popular it had to relocate to a larger space in the curling rink this year.

Besides supporting the town's economy, Unruh said the market, which runs through mid-December, has become a focal point for the community.

She also thinks local agriculture will struggle to find a future without the support of the public.

"Unless we support local farming, we will eventually be in danger of losing local farmers," said Unruh. "By supporting local farming, it help will strengthen that part of our economy."

First-year vendor Lisa McGarry makes all her goods, like rosemary bread, 100 per cent whole wheat bread and spicy cheese, from scratch.

She said the market is an irreplaceable place in the community for friendship. "It's a great gathering place for people, for families - it's a great experience to come to a place like this to see that there are still people who have a craft and make food," she said.

Harvey Kvile, who sells certified organically raised bison, has been a vendor for 10 years.

"Everything's fresh and you can pronounce all the ingredients. It's a social gathering. Just come down. There's just about everything here."

The Dawson Creek farmers market operates on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1444 102nd ave. The night market is open on the last Wednesday of every month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Contact Michelle Van Der Horst, the manager, at 250-782-1428 for information on becoming a vendor.

The Fort Nelson Outdoor Public Market opens this weekend on the grassy lot between Town Square and Northern Store and runs from from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Vera Soles, the market's coordinator, can be reached at manysoles@northwestel.net.

The Fort St. John Farmers' Market is held at the Curling Club on Saturdays. Contact Margie Unruh, the manager, for interest in vending. She can be reached at rmunruh@shaw.ca.