Crossfield Farmers' Market Manager Cheryl Shea is riding high after nabbing the Alberta Farmers' Market Association’s (AFMA) Outstanding Manager of the Year Award.
Shea received the award Feb. 27, during AFMA’s 2021 conference, which was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was selected ahead of seven other nominees from among 135 Alberta-approved farmers’ markets.
“It felt amazing. I’ve been nominated several times and it was just amazing, because we’re up against some very big, high-profile markets,” she said.
Shea has managed the Crossfield Farmers' Market for five seasons. She said she was previously a market vendor for 10-plus years, working for a company that sold its wares at markets in Crossfield, Airdrie, Cochrane and Bearspaw.
When her company decided it would no longer participate in farmers’ markets, Shea said she applied for the Crossfield market's manager position in 2016, as a way to stay involved in the sector.
“The Ag Society was looking to hire a market manager, and I went to a meeting and said yes,” said Shea, who is also a Crossfield resident. “That was three weeks before opening day. It came together fairly quickly, with me not knowing a thing. I’m still learning and it’s always been a learning curve.”
While she has been nominated for AFMA awards before, Shea attributed her success this year to the adversity the Crossfield Farmers' Market overcame in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was one of the first markets out of the gate with policies and procedures,” she said. “In order for us to go ahead, the Town of Crossfield needed a risk mitigation plan and I started that very early in the year. There was no way I was going to say ‘No, we’re not going to have a market’ – there are too many businesses that depend on them, as this is their livelihood.”
The Crossfield Farmers' Market operates weekly from June to the end of September. In addition to the regular season, the market also puts on one-off shopping events in the lead-up to Christmas and in the spring.
This year, the Crossfield Farmers' Market also hosted a winter event – the February Food Fest – which was held on Feb. 24.
One of the market’s regular vendors – Tammy Proctor, who runs Tasty Kitchens Creations – was also a recipient of an AFMA award this year, according to Shea, taking home the Outstanding New Vendor Award.
Managing a busy market is not Shea’s full-time career, as she’s also a rural mail carrier for Canada Post. She said balancing her two jobs has taken considerable dedication.
“All I do is work, let me put it that way,” she said. “I work for Canada Post during the day and then I come home in the afternoons and work on the market in the evenings and on the weekends. I’m not going to kid anyone – it’s a lot of work.”
As she gears up for her sixth season of managing the Crossfield Farmers' Market, Shea said the “can-do spirit” and entrepreneurial attitude her vendors exhibit keep her motivated and passionate about the benefit of farmers’ markets.
“Not every vendor makes it,” she said. “Not every vendor is honestly cut out for a farmers' market, but it’s a great incubator space. If you have something you’re looking to promote or build, farmers' markets are a very affordable way to do it.
“You’ll learn instantly – especially in an outdoor market – if you’re all-in or if it’s not for you,” she added. “I was one of those people that I just belonged here and knew I wanted to be a part of this community.”