The Saskatoon Farmer’s Market is celebrating 40 years of bringing fresh produce, meat, baking and crafts to Saskatoon, and the Simpkins family has been with it nearly every step of the way.
Audrey and George Simpkins began Simpkins Garden Market as a wholesale producer, but after three years of red ink on the books, they started looking for a new way to sell their vegetables.
“The farmers market (had just) started and we thought we’d give it a try,” Audrey said.
George joined the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market when it opened in 1975 and began selling the following year. While Audrey cared for their four children, George sold their produce every Sunday in the parking lot of the former Co-Op on 4th Street.
“People were accepting and appreciative of the fresh vegetables that we were bringing in and we decided to give up the wholesale and stick to the farmer’s market,” Audrey said.
The market continued to grow and moved locations to behind city hall. Audrey said customers used to be more laid back and conversational.
“It wasn’t such a frenzy that people were worried about getting a parking ticket so they wanted to get waited on,” she said. “I really enjoy this and I enjoy the comradeship with the customers.”
As the children grew, the entire family started helping out. Following George’s passing last year, two of their sons bought into the family business to keep it going and Audrey said one of her daughters plans to buy in soon.
Audrey said the farmer’s market has kept their business alive, but also provided city-dwellers with fresh food. Compared to vegetables that travel for days, the Simpkins’ produce is picked the day before and keeps fresh in the home longer.
When the market opened its year-round location in 2007, the Simpkins followed, however Audrey said they needed a little time to adjust. She said it wasn’t possible for the family to garden, prepare for market and sell three days a week without extra help.
“It sort of detracts from the ‘you make it, you bake it, you grow it, you sell it,'” she said. “They put it now that you can hire somebody to help some time. You have to put in a certain amount of time.”
Though she’s glad farmers no longer have to put up a winter building every year, she misses the community it created.
“When we had a winter building, we all had to pitch in and clean it and fix it up, and I think all together we made about seven floats for the exhibition parade,” Audrey said. “And now there doesn’t seem to be that volunteer or community spirit that there used to be. I think it will come. It’s just that (the new members) are new and it’s a whole new ball game for them.”
Audrey said over the years, market attendance has increased, particularly on Wednesdays, which were usually the slowest selling day. She said she hopes Saskatoon will continue to support the local market for at least another 40 years.