Erin Crampton is the owner of Crampton's Market, a seasonal grocery store and bakery specializing in organic produce, naturally raised meats and Manitoba-made foodstuffs such as jams, jellies and salad dressings.
Before we launch into today's story, Crampton has an anecdote that illustrates how much her clientele has learned about eating more ethically since her namesake business opened its doors 17 years ago.
"The first time we sold free-range eggs we had a sign in the store stating, 'FREE RANGE EGGS,' in big, bold letters," Crampton says, plopping herself down on an inverted plastic milk crate in her "office" -- a tight, behind-the-scenes space where employees in hunter-green aprons are busy shucking cobs of corn and shrink-wrapping slices of watermelon.
"We opened at 9 (a.m.), and by 9:10 there were a dozen people lined up at the cashier -- all of them with six cartons of eggs in their arms. I was like, 'Wow, is this ever great! Why weren't we selling these (eggs) till now?'
After talking to the first few customers in the queue, Crampton realized everyone had misinterpreted her sign: They thought "free range" meant the eggs were on the house.
Crampton grew up on her family's farm near Notre Dame de Lourdes. She moved to Winnipeg in 1995 to study criminology at the University of Manitoba. To make ends meet while she was attending classes, she got a part-time job at Chickadee Farms, a May-to-September produce store run by Bob and Ingrid Chyk.
During Crampton's second summer there, her bosses announced their intention to sell the venture and move back to Ontario. Crampton knew her parents, Sam and Paulette, were hoping to get out of the farming biz to focus on their line of jams, so she put them in touch with the Chyks and, just like that, Crampton's Market was born.
"The original name was Crampton's Farms Produce Market, because we thought it would be fun to call it something long and cumbersome," Crampton says with deadpan delivery.
Skip ahead to July 1999. Crampton was living in England, doing international-trade work for J.P. Morgan & Co., when she received an email from her mother. The gist of the message was 'Your dad and I have decided retail isn't for us, and when can you come home and take things over?'
Crampton caught a flight out of Heathrow a couple of days later, and within a week, she was the new (and old) face of Crampton's Market.
Crampton's Market's present location at 1765 Waverley St. is roughly three times the size of its original digs. It is also situated about 50 metres from where it stood when it was a one-room, 700-square-foot operation.
"See that intersection, where all the cars are flying through?" Crampton says, standing on her wraparound wooden deck and pointing due north towards Bishop Grandin Boulevard. "That's where the road used to end -- in the winter, it was just a big snow dump -- and that's where we were until they extended the road (to Kenaston)."
Crampton agrees she may have been ahead of the curve somewhat in regards to her stated policy of "no growth hormones, no antibiotics, no animal byproducts in the feed." (She personally visits all of her suppliers to verify they are as advertised.)
That decision wasn't a calculated move, she says. Rather, she was simply brought up to believe chemical-free food is better for a person, and so it was a no-brainer to adopt that principle when it came to her business, too.
Still, her determined effort to focus on Manitoba producers years before things like the 100-Mile Diet were in vogue did lead to its share of "discussions."
"There is a certain segment of the population that believes because something is local, it must be cheap," says Crampton, stopping to explain the "pet patties" in her standup freezer are burgers "for pets, not of pets."
"We spent four or five years arguing with customers, standing our ground about (our prices). And I also spent a lot of time talking to my producers, telling them they had to be charging more, too. Because I knew from my experience of growing up on a farm, they were going to go out of business if they continued selling below the cost of production."
One customer Crampton never went toe-to-toe with was Marc DeGagne, an ex-British Columbian who discovered the market through his father about seven years ago, after he moved back to Winnipeg from the west coast.
DeGagne was shopping for veggies one morning when Crampton struck up a conversation with him. The chats continued each time DeGagne popped in until -- well, let's allow Crampton to finish the story.
"No doubt about it: I totally picked him up. I made him take me out for breakfast, and we've been together for five years now. After we got married I even convinced him to quit his job at Manitoba Hydro and come over to the 'dark side' and join me here."
Nowadays, Crampton's Market is one of a number of operations such as Vic's Fruit Market, Local Meats & Frozen Treats and Jardins St-Léon Gardens that cater to consumers on the lookout for healthier choices come mealtime.
While some might think that's a fair bit of competition for a city the size of Winnipeg, Crampton doesn't see it that way.
"A long time ago, one of my suppliers gave me a bit of advice I still abide by. He told me 'You can either fight to get a bigger piece of the pie, or you can make the pie bigger.' So I've really taken that to heart, and really, truly believe that the more people go to farmers markets and stores like ours, the bigger the pie will be for everybody," Crampton says.
Crampton's Market is open seven days a week, from the week before Mother's Day to the Saturday of the Thanksgiving long weekend.