The story behind Michelle’s Market starts in a university pool with a young man from Brooks, Alberta who felt out of place.
Bill Alberts grew up in Brooks on his family’s farm. In grade 6, his parents sold the farm and moved the family to Calgary where his mother became a university professor. Despite Bill’s yearning for the country, which drove him back to Brooks each summer to work his aunt and uncle’s farm, he pursued a degree in physical education.
In his third year, Bill failed a course called Aquatics 315. It was a watershed moment. Neither his head nor his heart were committed to school. He wanted to be back in Brooks, connected to the land where his family first settled from Nebraska back in the 1930s.
“I felt caged up in the city,” Bill says. “There’s magic in the country.”
Back in Brooks, Bill would eventually take over from his aunt and uncle. He also met his wife Janice, and the two now preside over 320 acres of land. What was once only a grain farm now has 100 acres devoted to an array of pesticide-free field vegetables: beans, peas, squash, melons and more. With weekly seeding throughout the summer, Bill and Janice are able to harvest fresh produce each week.
The farm’s output is sold at farmers’ markets in Calgary and Brooks under the name Michelle’s Market. It’s a family operation in the truest sense. The name itself is a homage to Bill and Janice’s children, Michelle and Mark. The children are now adults with careers here in Calgary, but they still show up to help run the market stall. Extended family pitches in as well, with one niece having worked for them from age 14 to 32.
The Wednesday stop at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmers’ Market is one of four weekly trips to Calgary for Bill and Janice. Each market stop involves a process of picking, loading up coolers into a truck and making the two-hour drive from Brooks. Still, they feel the time and effort it takes to sell directly to consumers is well worth it.
Having sold to wholesalers at one point, Bill says it is far more rewarding selling at market, a point that Janice reinforces.
“We take great pride in what we do and the people at the HSCA are just so thankful,” she says.