By DIANE FISHER
KEMPTVILLE, Ont. — I’ve always been a huge fan of farmers’ markets. Strolling up and down the aisles and browsing the stalls is a summer afternoon ritual for me. I’ve also been a market vendor when my garden is overflowing, my freezers are full of farm-raised poultry and I even have books about life on the farm to sell.
Yes, the products sold at farmers’ markets are often more expensive than that you find in your local grocery store. But in most cases you’re getting fruits and vegetables that were picked that morning. Fresh-baked goods that come free of additives and preservatives. Homemade, chemical-free treats for your dog. Fresh kombucha in a refillable glass corked bottle.
In short, you’ll find things at the farmers’ market you just can’t find anywhere else.
Nearly every city and town in Canada has a farmers’ market. Some have been operating for years and are huge collectives of local producers. Many run year-round in winterized facilities.
They have become travel destinations – a must-see for tourists visiting and searching for local fare.
Other markets have just organized themselves recently, in keeping with the farm-to-table movement. People want to know where their food comes from. They want to meet the farmer and understand the methods used to grow and harvest the food. And they don’t want the food to travel hundreds of kilometres to get to their dinner table.
Find out when your local farmers are gathering to sell their wares. In my community, it’s Sunday afternoon. The pickup trucks start their little square dance just before 11 a.m. in the parking lot of the town’s original grocery store. The landlord provides the space to the farmers for free.
Enjoy both the highest quality produce on the planet as well as a connection with your community you won’t find in many other places at your local farmers’ market
By 11:30, about five dozen pop-up tents have been erected and pinned down with ropes tethered to heavy bottles of water, cement blocks or other weights – anything that can withstand a sudden gust of wind.
You can always tell the newbie by the way they tie (or don’t tie) down their tent. More than once, the wind has come up underneath a canopy to lift it like Mary Poppins’ umbrella, sailing down the market aisle and crashing into other stalls. Yes, it was mine once.
Just before noon, the sun settles on the tomatoes, strawberries, fresh herbs and flowers to create a cloud of aroma that wafts through the air, down the street and into the open windows of people’s homes. It floats in the open doors of the church and reminds parishioners it’s time for lunch.
Assailed by the smells of the market as you pass by in your car, you pull into a parking spot just in time to see the Thai food vendor fire up her hot oil for fresh spring rolls. There’s often a short queue in front of her stall and she runs out of spicy mango salad every week.
Other market regulars show up just for George’s shawarma and hummus. He ran a restaurant for years and now mans a weekly food stall as a labour of love. You can buy the makings of a Lebanese meal to take home or allow George to make you something to enjoy right now, under an umbrella at one of the picnic tables.
The market is different every week. You never know who will be there. But at my market, there’s always music. A simple acoustic guitar and voice, or a trio of fiddles, sets the atmosphere. You can imagine you’re strolling a market in Europe, perhaps even in medieval times. We even had a bagpiper once. She played AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
I’ve been at farmers’ market weekends in May and October in a scarf and toque, with a shawl around my shoulders. Visitors clutched paper mugs of hot coffee, apple cider and chocolate as they browsed the offerings.
We have also been rained out from time to time, when the weather rose above a drizzle. We were forced to admit defeat as our tents groaned under the pelting rain.
But the bulk of our season is marked with hot, sunny Sunday afternoons. We’re grateful for the shade of our canopy tents. And happy to see so many customers supporting local producers, creators and purveyors of fine foods.
The farmers’ market is a true celebration of local. Get out and discover yours today.
Diana Leeson Fisher is married to retired university professor Jim Fisher and lives on a small farm near Kemptville, about an hour south of Ottawa.
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