Farmers’ Markets Forever

— by Camille DePutter

This month, we celebrate the farmers’ market. Of course, Withrow Park is our favourite, but it is just one in a great bushel basket of options. 

A market can mean many things. I was thinking about different types of markets today and in doing so I realized something. Each market experience all had left me with one thing: a powerful memory.

I believe a market – whether it’s a covered market, a roadside stand, or a little pop-up in a park – has the potential to take a special place in one’s mind, perhaps because it’s much more of a sensory experience, a place where you can taste, touch, smell, listen. 

In many other places in our life – including the grocery store – we’re told to be efficient, to get the job done. We learn it’s wrong to play with our food; we learn to keep our hands to ourselves. The market is a free space from this – it’s a place to explore. Ask questions. Lean in – smell, touch, maybe even get to sample something new.

And because the pace tends to be a little less hectic and more personal than a grocery store, it opens up space to get in touch with your senses. 

Let me give you an example. I grew up in London, Ontario and for years enjoyed our version of the covered market, named Covent Garden (appropriate given the city’s name, and located near the Thames River to boot.) When I think about that market, I have a very visceral memory of reaching up to taste cheese curds from the cheese monger. Of looking up in awe at the golden rotisserie chickens and drooling at the smell. Of being treated to a black cherry pop. The whole place felt mysterious. Magical.

When I was a teenager the old market was torn down and replaced with a new one. It never had quite the same special feel, but it did take on a new importance for me, because it’s where I got one of my first jobs – working at a coffee shop called The Little Red Roaster. I actually have fond memories of working in food service, learning about the fancy coffee drinks that were just starting to gain popularity, and mastering simple recipes like black bean quesadillas. 

Toronto has been my home for some time now and I’ve grown attached to its many types of markets. The St. Lawrence Market was a gateway drug for me when I started to lean more about food, discovering oodles of fresh produce, different kinds of meat, fancy French cheeses. Kensington – a neighbourhood that feels like a market – is so eclectic, colourful and diverse that it always makes me feel at home. I’ve always had a soft spot for the little downtown grocers that keep the streets colourful year round with beautiful fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers. And of course, all the amazing farmers’ markets that can become part of a satisfying routine (picking up goodies for the week on a Saturday) or a surprise (happening past a mini market in the heart of downtown on the way home from work, just in the  midst of trying to figure out what to have for dinner). 

Whatever kind of market, I believe that this sort of food shopping offers an opportunity to get a little more up-close-and-personal with your food. While I understand that big grocery store trips need to happen, and some people detest the chore though I personally enjoy it, the market can be a reprieve – a way to get in touch with your food and surroundings.

Market lovers will tell you it’s good to shop at a farmers’ market because you’re getting good quality produce, you’re learning and getting to meet farmers, and you’re contributing to the community. But I think farmers’ markets have another purpose too: they allow you to be a little more present. To infuse the shopping experience with tactile memory; to get a greater awareness of the food around you; to engage your senses rather than blindly moving through the task.

Put simply: farmers’ markets make memories. And they’re memories that last.

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