And it really happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, the farmers’ market has exploded into this great thing. There’s obscenely fresh food, smiling farmers, and also the palpable sense of a community gathering.
But I have to admit, at the individual level, getting into the rhythm, and making the most of my weekly trips is taking a little time. I’m no stranger to farmers’ markets. But to this point, our regular family forays have tended to be casual (“Yay we got a basket of peaches! Mmmm, fresh bread. Oh, look at those carrots!) In this busy phase of life, grocery stores, and the convenience of the one-stop shop, have a strong hold on us. But now that we have a market so close, I aim to give more of my dollars straight to farmers.
My family’s slowly increasing engagement is typical of what’s happening all across the country. According to a recent Ontario report, “Farmers’ markets continue to show growth on an annual basis. Between 1998 and 2008, the estimated compound annual growth in direct sales at farmers’ markets was 7.3%.”
And there's more untapped demand. In the same report, many non-market-goers in Ontario expressed a desire “to return to healthier, fresher, locally produced products.” Their main barriers, they say are lack of “location, convenience and variety.”
Well, with this new market on our doorsteps, we “Beach Hillers” have gotten a great boost on the location/convenience/variety side of things. As I see it, the main task now at the consumer level is learning to work out the kinks. Take my experience. At the Fairmount Park market, I’ve scored gorgeous herbs and cherry tomato plants that are now flourishing on my front lawn, and I can’t stop raving about Crosswind Farms’ goat cheese. But I’ve also—several times—abruptly run out of cash at the market, wished desperately that I’d brought a small cooler, or walked around vaguely bewildered by all the choices. I’ve also bought so much on my weekend grocery run that I don’t need much on market day.
On the bright side, I’m quickly learning to integrate market shopping into my life. If you, like me, are still figuring out what works for you, here are some tips I’ve gathered on maximizing your next trip to the market:
Before the market:
- Check out the market website or Facebook page to see what products and seasonal produce are being featured this week.
- When planning your grocery shopping for the week, factor in that you’ll do a run to the market on Wednesday.
- Just before market day, check your fridge and pantry. Create a meal plan for the next couple of days. Then create your market shopping list.
- Backpacks or reusable bags for your purchases. Note that the Fairmount Market has a Zero Waste Bag Depot; leave extra canvas bags or take one for shopping.
- Plenty of cash (including Toonies and Loonies so farmers don’t have to make change for endless $20 dollar bills).
- Your shopping list—but allow for a bit of flexibility and spontaneity too.
- A cooler, particularly if you intend to buy cheese, eggs, or meat.
- Reusable cups, plates and utensils if you’re eating at the market. (This helps meet the market’s zero waste goals.)
- And if you’re walking, a wagon or cart isn’t a bad idea either to help get your market booty home.
- Before you shop, take a walk around the market to see what’s available and to check out prices.
- Buy something new. Besides fruits and veggies, the market has a dizzying array of products including maple syrup, coffee, and baked goods. Here’s your chance to find a new favourite—“Fairmount” Onigiri, goat sausage, or maybe Berkshire pork chops.
- Get to know the farmers. And if you have questions about something, or need cooking advice, ask.
- Consider buying in bulk to save money, and to have food left over for freezing or canning. (You can talk to farmers about bulk savings.)
- Re: timing, the general rule of thumb for markets is shop early for the best selection, or shop late to catch possible price reductions.
- If you have little ones and want to avoid the crowds, shopping right when the market opens is usually a good bet.
- For older kids, you can use the market as a great learning opportunity. Get them involved in choosing a new food each week, asking a farmer a question, or making a purchase all by themselves.
- There are also lots of activities for kids to enjoy. Fairmount Park Farmers’ Market has a wading pool, music, various kids’ activities and adjacent green space and playgrounds.
- Share your market finds and recipes with friends on social media.
- “Like” farmers and vendors online. (This also means you’ll get updates on what products they’ll be bringing to the market next week.)
- If you’ve purchased something new to try, go online and try out a new recipe.
- And of course, enjoy the food. Bon appetit!
If you're really keen, why not volunteer?
- If you'd like to further support the market, contact market manager Kim Antonius at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Peter Visima for many of the pictures on our website!