One of the ways I know that the spring and summer season has arrived is the presence of farmers’ markets dotting parks, parking lots, squares, and sidewalks in cities and towns across Ontario, Canada and really across North America. While a few markets run all-year round, heading indoors over the winter, many of the farmers’ markets pop up in late May and early June, offering a wide assortment of goodies for people to buy.
While walking in the Annex yesterday in central Toronto I passed signs posted on front lawns and hydro polls with details about the neighbourhood farmers’ market that happened every Wednesday afternoon, starting in June. My luck, yesterday was Wednesday, it was 3:00 pm and I was only about 3 blocks from this market. It’s hard for me to stay away from a farmers’ market, so off I went, with sleeping baby in the stroller, to check out a market I had never visited before.
There are some basic commonalities that all farmers’ markets share, which I find helps locals, tourists or just general passers-by easily find their way through:
- They are set up with vendor tables on two sides of a wide aisle, to easily allow for pedestrian traffic. These vendor tables are all protected under a pop-up white tent (sometimes another colour but for the most part it’s white), so they stay dry. These markets happen rain or shine!
- The vendors are all local, coming from as far as farms 100 km away. They know the town or neighbourhood and the kind of customers that frequent that market.
- It’s not just produce at today’s farmers’ markets. While there are always a few vendors selling seasonal produce (asparagus in May, strawberries in late June or peaches in August), one can expect much more. I can always count on someone who is selling homemade breads, another vendor that may have honey, maple syrup, jams or olive oil and there’s usually an assortment of freshly cooked food or fresh squeezed juices to purchase as well.
- For the most part, transactions are cash only. Unless there is a vendor who is selling bigger ticket items like clothing or jewelry, don’t expect to find Apple pay or a credit card reader.
- Some of the more eclectic markets feature live music, which is an added bonus. It is nice to show off local talent, and music puts people in a good mood.
- The vendors are friendly and knowledgeable about what they are selling. The baker will recommend the right bread that suits your personal taste buds. When you buy a jar of honey you will get advice on how to store it. The local farmer will tell you what she pulled from her garden just that morning and what to expect next. The personal touch is something special.
The city of Toronto has many farmers’ markets to choose from, and many towns offer one weekly or biweekly. My favourite market to visit outside Toronto is the one in the centre of Collingwood, a town on the southern shore of Georgian Bay. It runs every Saturday from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm, from Victoria Day weekend to Thanksgiving weekend.
This market has all the usual vendors one can expect as well as a few surprises. My children love the live alpaca and the soft socks, hats and clothing that vendor sells. It isn’t a summer weekend for my nephew unless he gets his raspberry filled doughnut from a specific vendor (who also makes and sells the best pierogis) and my parents can’t leave without buying up all the fresh samosas from a vendor called Ali’s Kitchen (who has a restaurant in Collingwood). The market often features live music, it’s bustling on a warm and sunny Saturday morning and it represents everything a good farmers’ market should be.
One of my favourite farmers’ markets that I visited as a tourist was a Thursday morning market in the Napa Valley in California. In addition to local fresh produce, breads and jams, there was a live cooking demonstration. Using food all available at that market, a local chef demonstrated with mirrors and cameras, how to put some simple and fresh dishes together. It was a great way to show off what was on offer from the vendors, the local chef showed off her talent and plugged her restaurant and everyone went home with some new recipes and cooking skills.
I encourage you to swing by a farmers’ market this summer, in your own city or town, in a community just outside where you live or on summer travel. You are guaranteed, fresh, local, quality food and merchandise with kind and friendly service.