Where would you rather be: Green Acres or New York? Are you home-grown like Eddie Albert or high-class like Eva Gabor? Do you remember the television show we’re talking about… or have we just totally dated ourselves?
In York Durham Headwaters, you don’t have to choose between country and city—we have the best of both worlds. We are an up-and-coming metropolis, with bustling city centres and thriving urban entertainment. We are also fingers-in-the-dirt rural where, for many of our communities, agriculture is still a treasured way of life.
Farmers’ markets are a testament to how these two types of living, which on the surface you might be tempted to think are unrelated, actually live in beautiful symbiosis. We are both urban and rural, and our farmers’ markets are the bridge that connects the two.
Freshness and variety
Plus, you are going to find greater variety, meaning that what is available at farmers’ markets is often not sold in grocery stores. It is usually the smaller, family-run farms that sell at these markets, and their operations are not on the scale required to meet the demands of a large chain grocer. What this means, however, is that because the farmers are not beholden to a demand for volume, they can grow whatever varieties of produce they want.
These varieties are often the kind that don’t have as long a shelf life. “A lot of time, fruits and vegetables are selected because they might have a tougher skin, or they’re able to deal with shipping better,” Cathy Bartolic explains. “Whereas if you go to a local farmer, they’ll have varieties that just taste great.”
All this variety translates to what Jessica Wortley, manager of the Erin Farmers’ Market, calls an adventure in food. “We had buffalo here in Erin at one point,” she says. “Farmers’ markets expose you to different things that you wouldn’t normally have access to if you just stick to the larger stores. I think that’s exciting. We can all learn and try new things.”
A social experience
When you visit a farmers’ market, you’re not just ‘doing the weekly shop.’ It’s not a grab-it-and-go kind of experience. Farmers’ markets are all about being social. Whether you meet up with friends and family to spend a few hours outdoors, or you stop and talk to the farmers, producers and artisans, it’s all about who you get to meet.
It’s also about the opportunity to teach our children about where our food comes from. Items don’t magically appear on a shelf wrapped in pretty plastic. Food comes from a farm, and there is a person who grew it. There is an artisan who baked the bread, prepared the preserves or crafted the beeswax candles.
“In the age of fast food and convenience, and having anything any time you want, we’re teaching our kids about eating in season, about freshness, and about where our food comes from,” Jessica Wortley says. “It’s a great connection, and it’s an opportunity to connect kids with food, considering how big a part it plays in family and social gatherings.”
Believe it or not, the demand for farmers’ markets is often led not by the farmers, but by citizens and municipalities who want access to fresh, local food. The North Oshawa Farmers’ Market, with farmers from places like Mitchell’s Corners, Raglan, Peterborough and Pontypool, is an example. It was driven by just a few individuals that wanted to try and get local produce available to the residents of North Oshawa, and to maintain that rural connection.
“You know you’re getting something local at a farmers’ market,” says president Garry Geissberger, who also operates Geissberger Farmhouse Cider. “You can talk to the person who grew it, who was up at four or five o’clock that morning picking the corn or the strawberries. These products have been nurtured by the farmers, and you can see the quality that is a result.”
Jessica Wortley also points out that farmers’ markets are an essential source of support for entrepreneurs who are beginning their business. “I find it can be a great entry level point for someone starting up,” she says. “They need a place to establish themselves and access those customers who want to support them, who want to support their local economy.”
Farmers’ markets: a summer tradition
What would summer be without our farmers’ markets? For so many people, they are a tradition on the Friday evening drive of a cottage weekend. They are a rural oasis for urban residents to gather, to taste, and to socialize. They are the connection between our farms and our cities, and they are important venues for supporting our local food producers.
In short, they are a quintessential Ontario experience. Make farmers’ markets a part of your family’s fresh, local summer.
Story by Katherine Ryalen