Feature Vendor Interview – The Lamb Lady

Feature Vendor of the week: The Lamb Lady
At last week’s market we caught up with Raelyn Warren, better known as The Lamb Lady.

What do you sell?
I sell lamb and Berkshire pork from our farm. We do specialty things with the lamb like lamb burgers lamb kabobs, dinner sausages, and regular cuts like chops. Everything we sell we have raised on our farm. We also take the wool products from our sheep and make pillows, comforters and socks out of it.

Does anyone else sell your product?
No, only I do. I sell them at the Farmer’s Markets and in the off season I sell off of the farm as well.

Where are you located?
I am just south of Benalto, about ten kilometers. We have sheep, pigs, cows and some crop land as well.

What is Berkshire pork?
Berkshire Pork is a heritage bread. It has more flavor to the taste. Most of it gets exported to the Japanese market and you’ll only usually find it at farmers markets or high end restaurants. The reason being is that it take a little longer to dress them out so the big guys aren’t interested in them but the flavor is just phenomenal.

What makes you awesome? Why should people choose you?
Why they should choose me? I have a unique product. We take lots of care in the feed that is fed to our animals. That probably why I have so many return customers. Our meat is delicious and healthy for you. It is all natural, we don’t use any antibiotics or other things that people don’t want in their food.

What is a “must try”?
The must try is the lamb kabobs. They are marinated in a souvlaki mix so they taste like Greek lamb, they are really delicious. On the Berkshire pork side, I would try the ham steaks. They are excellent.

What is your favorite thing that you sell?
I don’t think I have a favorite thing to sell. I enjoy talking about the farm and answering questions that people have.

Is there anything people need to be educated about when it come to your product?
Probably educated in regards to lamb. A lot of people have had negative experiences with lamb. Maybe they have eaten mutton or stuff like it so they don’t realize that Alberta lamb is actually very mild and tender. We do a lot of education with people in regards to lamb. The fact is there is a huge difference between Alberta Lamb and the stuff you get at the grocery store. The biggest difference is how they are raised. The flavor of the meat is definitely influenced by what the animal eats. What an animal eats gets passed on into the flavor and texture of its meat.

Do you get a lot of people who have never tried lamb before?
Yes actually! We have converted a lot of people over to lamb for sure! We have many products such as the lamb burgers, the Greek style kabobs and the sausages that enables people to try it without having to know much about it.

Is there an advantage to eating lamb?
Yes, the advantage to eating lamb is that it is high in protein and low in fat. If you meet up with a dietitian and they put you on a strict diet, most of them will suggest lamb as your red meat. That way you will get your protein and it is easy to digest.

Do you do your own butchering?
No. The regulations for meat are about 3 times stricter than those for a regular food producer. Everything needs to be government inspected and have a stamp. It has to be done by a provincially regulated facility. Basically we take our animals to our butcher and they do all of the processing then I take the stuff home when it is done and bring it to market to sell.

How did you start your business?
My husband has been a farmer his whole life and I have farmed for ten years, 6 of them in livestock. 
We started about 5 years ago. I did a test market at Sylvan Lake then did 3 markets to see if there was some interest in lamb. We started with lamb then added pork. We went from three markets the first year to about 12 a year later. Once I decided there was enough market for it I started doing it full time. I do 6 markets in 5 days. I have been doing it full time for about three years now. It allows me to stay on the farm.

What other markets do you attend?
I do Spruce View Monday, this one Wednesday, Rocky Thursday, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake Friday on the same day and then I do Red Deer Public Market on Saturday.

Which is your favorite and why?
You know what? This one’s a great one! It really is, you get a chance to actually talk to people. This is a good market for me.

You seem to know everyone. Do you have a lot of repeat customers?
Yes! A lot of them from this market are definitely here weekly.

How did you hear about the ATB Downtown Market?
I googled it. When we decided to go full time I was looking for another market in the central area. I met up with Tyler, decided to try it out, joined and it was successful from day 1.

How long have you been with us?
This will be my third season at this particular market but I have been doing Farmer’s Markets for about five and a half years.

Do you like being Downtown?
Yes I do! This is a good market for me. It’s very neat that they close the two blocks, it kind of gives an intimate feeling for the market. I like the fact that its farmers and producers only. You don’t get caught up in the “who makes this?” argument. Everyone knows that all of the vendors here are producers and that I like.

You like that this is a Sunny Girl market?
Yes absolutely, I think that there is only one market that I do that isn’t. These types of market are more intimate with the customers.

What is your favorite thing about the ATB Downtown Market?
I would have to say my favorite thing is my repeat customers. I have gotten to know a lot of people, some of them by first name and some I know what they want when they come up to the booth. I also like the fact that it’s a little bit smaller market so you get more time to talk with people and answer questions. People get to know you and they will wave at you! Even when they aren’t buying anything they still get to know you and they will wave as they walk by. I get a lot of compliments and that’s awesome. They tell people about you and it is good for the market as well because then they tell people where to buy it.

You are here a lot. Do you have a favorite other vendor in the market or a favorite business on this street?
Well I have buddies here! We end up being buddies because there are whole bunch of us that go to the same markets. My buddy Beth over at Markerville Berry and Vegetable doesn’t live too far from me so we end up talking about hail storms all the time. My other buddy Nicole from Fresh Harvest Farms goes to quite a few of the same markets that I go to. We all end up helping each other out if one of us forgets something. 
I know they aren’t on this street but the Red Boar Smokery, has excellent food! They try to source as much local as they can too!

What advice would you give to people just starting out?
Especially in the meat industry, do your research. Try it out a little bit. When I first started out I went to markets and found out the type of thing I was going to do. When we started doing lamb we knew we were going to do Farmer’s Markets. There are different breeds that have better meat so, we had to make sure that we bought the right breed. We did the same with the pork. The pork actually took a little longer. I went around to a bunch of Farmer’s Markets and found out that everyone sold Berkshire. It took us 9 months to find the breeding stock, add another 5 months before they can have babies and then another 4 months to grow. It was about a two year process before we were able to figure out exactly what we were going to do and then be able to bring it to the market. It was quite a process. Once I did my research I tried it out and I was able to figure out that I must have had a pretty good product because people kept coming back. Now I’m able to do it full time.

How do you define success?
I would say success would be doing something that you love. I love being with people, I love also having animals. You have to enjoy what you are doing. At the very end you have to be able to make money as well. A combination of all of that.

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