Grower co-op provides niche at Stampede

Lia Schipper harvests some of her farm grown micro greens with a pair of scissors for an urban crowd that never knew vegetables were grown so close to Calgary.

Schipper and her family live at Bow Island, Alta., and are among the 52 growers in the Red Hat Co-operative who offered a variety of locally grown vegetables during the Calgary Stampede as a healthy alternative to midway fare.

The micro greens are seedling versions of vegetables and grains like lentils, peas, corn, broccoli, kale and radish. Each leaflet takes on the taste of the vegetable and is good in sandwiches and salads or used as a garnish.

RedHat Co-operative has been around for nearly 50 years and is based at Redcliff, west of Medicine Hat, where the extra hours of sunshine make greenhouse vegetable production easy. Most of the produce stays in Alberta, but it’s also sold into Saskatchewan and Manitoba, said Albert Cramer, chair of the cooperative, who’s grown sweet peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes for 30 years.

Part of the Stampede promotion included grower cards, similar to hockey cards. Each card featured a short story about a local producer to put a friendly face on agriculture, said Cramer.

“We are just ordinary people growing this product in Alberta. A lot of people don’t know this is grown in Alberta,” he said.

Besides traditional vegetables, more growers are adding products like eggplant, new varieties of lettuce, wheat grasses for juice and heirloom tomatoes.

“The niche market is really growing,” he said.

For growers like Schipper, producing an organic product for health conscious consumers is an interesting career path with some unexpected rewards. “It’s fun,” she said.

The co-operative started with 10 growers in 1966 in the Medicine Hat-Redcliff area and has expanded to include farmers as far as Lethbridge and Bow Island. From more than 125 acres, the co-operative produces 5.5 million cases of fresh vegetables in a 98,500 sq. -foot facility that includes a robotic packaging system.

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