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Pursuing a passion for peas

One of St. Albert Farmers' Market's first vendors reflects on decades of work
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Eric Chen hands a customer a bag of lettuce from his Peas on Earth booth at the farmers market in downtown St. Albert. DAN RIEDLHUBER/St. Albert Gazette
For nearly 38 years, husband and wife duo Eric and Ruby Chen have been selling their certified organic produce at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market at their booth, Peas on Earth. And while the business had humble beginnings, it has since established itself as a go-to for fresh vegetables at markets in and around the city.

As one of the very first vendors at the market when it started back in the 1980s, Eric has watched the market transform over the years into what is now billed as the largest outdoor farmers market in Western Canada.

“There were only 20 something vendors when we first started,” says Eric. “There were some bakers and crafters, but little to no ready-to-eat food or food trucks.”

Eric used to live in Westlock, where he worked for a market gardener. However, since they had other jobs to juggle, Eric and Ruby decided to take on the work themselves.

They rented out a piece of land in Westlock, and with no equipment of their own, they asked farmers from the area to help out.

They began selling their produce at the St. Albert Farmers Market during its early days, and Eric says to this day they have never missed a market, devoting decades of Saturdays to their work.

“We came in from Westlock in a two-door Cobra, took the back seats out, and filled it with whatever we harvested,” he recalled.

Eric and Ruby try to keep people’s budgets in mind, knowing that organic food can be a bit pricey, and with support from the community, Eric says selling at the market is a mutually beneficial experience.

“As long as people value organic food, they want to support us, and we want to give them the best value and the best product,” he said.

While healthy food choices are for everyone, Eric says they do notice certain demographics gravitating to their booth more often.

“We tend to attract families with young children who are very health-conscious, as well as seniors who want to eat healthier,” he noted.

Peas on Earth has grown as the St. Albert Farmers' Market has, and now produces other food such as basil, rhubarb and goji berries. The Chens now have 65 acres of land and a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse to pursue their passion.

And while Eric and Ruby love selling at the market, Eric says what makes it most enjoyable is when people come out to show their support – no matter the weather.

“I think it’s important that when the market is open, the community supports it, because that’s what drives it,” he said. “We drive each other.”

In addition to their long-standing booth at the St. Albert Farmers Market, Peas on Earth also sells at the Callingwood Farmers’ Market and the Old Strathcona indoor Farmers’ Market year-round.

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