Shelley Bradshaw of Innisfail Growers helps Guy Boisvert of Red Deer select some fresh produce during the Red Deer Public Market Saturday morning. The market's popularity continues to grow

Shelley Bradshaw of Innisfail Growers helps Guy Boisvert of Red Deer select some fresh produce during the Red Deer Public Market Saturday morning. The market's popularity continues to grow

New hours a sore spot for some market vendors

A tincture of controversy has done little to mar the shopping experience at public markets in Red Deer and Bentley.

A tincture of controversy has done little to mar the shopping experience at public markets in Red Deer and Bentley.

This year, the Red Deer public market — owned and operated by former city councillor and Red Deer College instructor Dennis Moffat and his son, Patrick — extended its hours in a bid to give shoppers more time to drop in and check out the goods and services being offered.

“We sell anything that’s legal,” the senior Moffat said while maneuvering his pickup truck from trash can to trash can on Saturday morning.

Now in its 42nd year, the Red Deer market’s official hours were changed to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, an addition of 2.5 hours from previous years, when it ran from 9 a.m. to 12:30.

That move has stopped a number of vendors from attending the Bentley Farmer’s Market, which runs on Saturday afternoons from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., said manager Judy Esmond.

In past years, a number of vendors had been attending both markets, tearing down in Red Deer in time to make the 40-minute drive to set up in Bentley.

The change at Red Deer hasn’t slowed down the number of people coming to the market, but it has limited the variety of produce available to them, Esmond said on Friday.

Vendors in Red Deer on Saturday morning said they now have to work longer, but haven’t seen an increase in sales.

Honey producer Brian Nixon and vegetable farmer Hank Pluister both said their sales volumes have not increased along with the workload.

Nixon anticipates serious problems as vendors who hope to make both markets shut down early so they can get to Bentley in time. Nothing has happened so far, but with so many people and vehicles moving through the parking lot, it’s just a matter of time before it does, he said.

Dennis Moffat said he and Patrick guide vendors out if they want to leave early. While he understands the grumbling coming from behind the tables, he said the move has received a great response from shoppers who had difficulty getting to the market in past years because of its limited hours.

Moffat said he doesn’t encourage vendors to leave early, nor does he situate their sites so they can dash off.

Located in the parking lot in front of the Red Deer Arena, the Red Deer market is having a much better year than it did in 2011, when foul weather virtually washed the market away on three separate Saturdays, he said.

This past Saturday was the second best of the year, with 208 vendors on site. So far, the best day this year was on its second Saturday, when 222 vendors set up their wares.

The Red Deer market sees an average of 165 to 180 vendors, said Moffat.

Like the market itself, producers have been at the whim of the weather, with early rains setting some crops back. Oddly enough, the Red Deer market seems to attract the most shoppers when it’s drizzly and wet, said Moffat. The crowds don’t seem quite as thick on hotter, sunnier mornings, he said.

Reanna Jempson, in charge of the Pearson’s Berry Farm stand, said the early rains had caused uneven growth in their berry crops, so berries had to be picked one-by-one rather than in bunches.

Pearson’s did not offer fresh berries for sale as a result, but was giving away berries to people who wanted to pick their own, said Jempson.

Pluister said his crops were late because of the early rains, but recovered nicely with excellent yields, He said his best item this year has been cauliflower, which has been in high demand.

Nixon said his production levels are dependent on God’s will.

“He gives sun and rain and it all works out,” said Nixon.

Bentley Farmer’s Market runs until the Labour Day Weekend.

The Red Deer public market continues until Thanksgiving.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com