Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City: A Heritage of Local Food

The final session at the Edmonton Heritage Council’s symposium was on the heritage of local food. I thought it was a great idea to include a topic like food, something we don’t always associate with heritage, though obviously it makes sense to do so. The session was moderated by Liane Faulder, and panelists included Kathryn Chase Merrett, Jessie Radies, and Patricia Myers.

How might the history of local food production and marketing in Edmonton relate to people’s contemporary interest in local food? This session will discuss how this history connects to current concerns and developments on sustainable food systems.

Here are my notes:

  • In addition to moderating, Liane was also a panelist. She started by sharing some recent local food stories. She talked about three local producers: Donna & Bohdan Borody (The Jam Lady), May Ellen & Andreas Grueneberg (Greens, Eggs & Ham), and Gordon Visser (Norbest Farms). She also mentioned the Culina family of restaurants.
  • Liane noted the recent desire that many people have to reconnect with their food producers. She also talked about the importance and popularity of farmers’ markets, saying “the farmers market is the new church”.
  • Kathryn, who has literally written the book on the history of the Edmonton City Market, talked a lot about her view that food is a big part of what makes a city livable.
  • It might be hard to visualize but from 1900 until 1965, market square was where the current Stanley Milner library sits.
  • She said the market has not always been seen as a positive thing in Edmonton, at least not by those in power. Old city councils viewed it negatively, and tried a number of times to displace it. Nothing has ever really worked though, because citizens and food producers have always loved the market.
  • Kathryn also touched on foods which used to be plentiful in Edmonton, such as strawberries. She read a passage from an 1894 Edmonton Bulletin article that described the “crimson trail” left behind as you walked, because there were so many strawberries.
  • To Kathryn, a livable city is one that can feed all of its people, but which also takes the time to enjoy and to share.
  • Jessie recounted her experiences of growing up on the farm, describing the various skills she learned, such as canning. It was a great story.
  • She also talked about her recent work with Original Fare and Live Local. She said that both the local and global food systems are necessary, and must be strong.
  • Patricia collects antique cookbooks and shared some of the reasons behind her hobby.
  • She said she doesn’t care so much about having particular editions, but she loves acquiring different books to see what she can learn from them.
  • Patricia said she views the cookbook as a repository of women’s history. Typically cookbooks are dismissed as historical works, and Patricia is trying to change that.
  • She said you can learn about the technology and cultural norms through the cookbooks. For example, she said books that contain lots of sandwich filling recipes were likely from a time when picnics, fundraisers, and other activities were quite common.

I was really intrigued by Patricia’s idea that you can trace technology through the cookbooks. It made me wonder what else is out there that we don’t typically think of as being important heritage pieces.