By Roberta Stimac
On the last leg of our 2008 European whirlwind tour, we passed through Austria en route to Germany, and stayed over night in a lovely and super reasonably priced little hotel in a beautiful little alpine town called Lienz. It was late spring, so it was easy to get accommodation at a good price; surely the same would not be the case during ski season. This will be only a sketch of what we saw, because we were on a schedule and really just blitzing through, so I’ll have to leave you with many unanswered questions.
Lienz had a street market, which was also their 2 day town market (Friday and Saturday “Stadt Markt”), and whether the folks selling were farmers or not, I unfortunately can tell you not. But we came across a restaurant that was a member of the Slow Food movement (which started in neighbouring Italy), and proudly displayed that fact with a sign.
I took a photo of their message board (on the right, which, for you non German speakers reads: “We have: the best coffee in town (so tell us our customers); best quality wines from Italy, Austria & France; choice cheeses, bacon, prosciutto, salami, pasta, olive oil, grappa; a sense of good humour + always a friendly smile; the best customers in the world!!!”
If the vendors at the stands were actual farmers, that would explain much about the absence of local produce, and the presence of meats and cheeses. Alpine town, June… the growing season would clearly be relatively short with later starts and earlier endings (no shortage of hay, though, let me tell you, and great pasture for grazing). There was a great choice of cured meat products to pick from and (a potential nightmare for Toronto bureaucrats) vendors set up wine bars in the street! In the morning! (Mind you, it was Saturday, after all.)
One of my most favourite things I’ve seen in Lienz is this fantastic mobile bake oven. If I could, I would have one build for our market, stat! The other amazing set up solution were these fantastic trailers that turn into instant market stands. How about that Toronto? What a great solution that would be for street food vendors and farmers’ markets.
Oh, how much more time we would have loved to have spent in this lovely Austrian alpine oasis. How much time we would have loved to have spent everywhere the road took us, really. But we were expected in Germany, and off we went. Our next destination was Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in the Rhineland; wine land central of Germany.
Neustadt was our place to plop and rest up for our so very much dreaded return home. Not that we didn’t or don’t love calling Toronto our home, but it meant getting back to the day to day same old stuff, and we just had such a fabulous time tripping through Europe. We felt that we clearly didn’t see enough, didn’t stay long enough, and didn’t try enough of the local foods. For example, I would have loved to have made a stop in the lovely orchards around Neustadt (it was cherry season – one of my absolutely most favourite fruits!), and would have loved to chat with the growers. But no, on and on we went on our crazy whirlwind tour.
One of the really cool things about this area of Germany is that it benefits from a unique micro climate that allows for the cultivation of almonds (native to the Middle East and South Asia), and every year, the villagers of nearby Gimmeldingen have their annual almond blossom flower celebration (which we, sadly, missed). We did see a couple of produce stands in Neustradt’s centre square, and I believe they featured a mix of local and imported produce. Again: not enough time to linger and explore (argh!). But here are a couple of photos of picturesque Neustadt!
On the last day of our trip we went to a supermarket, and even though supermarkets were invented in North America, I yet have to see one that will match the set up and product variety of this Globus.
Are Germans big meat eaters? You bet! No supermarket in Toronto features a meat counter like we saw there. I didn’t take any photos, but here is a link to Clare B. Dunkle’s blog, where I found some examples of what it was like (and not just in terms of meat).
Of course, I needed to take a stroll down my long neglected kid’s taste-buds-memory-lane and stock up on some of my favourite treats from years so long since passed. In the shopping cart (to one side, not the whole stash is ours), are: Erdnuss Locke (peanut curls – they are kind of like cheese puffs, but made with peanut butter instead), paprika flavoured Frit Stick (similar to hickory potato sticks, but without the hickory flavour), Duplo (similar to Kit Kat bars, but better), Yogurette strawberry yogurt filled chocolate sticks (or chocolate covered strawberry yogurt?), Leibnitz Minis (cookies with and without chocolate cover), DeBeukelaer Prinzen Rolle Chocolate Filled Cookies, and there’s probably some other stuff hidden underneath.
So there you have it, dear reader. Thank you for accompanying me on this virtual 2008 Euro-tour!
The most important impression that I took away was the importance and the fragility of food and food culture. Farmers are important, no doubt about it. It’s a way to make a living, a livelihood, a way to live, period! Throughout human evolution, as we became increasingly sedentary and started to engage in a symbiotic relationship with the plants around us, we globally developed new cultivars and food ways. Globalization (and the globalization of food in particular) has had benefits, but it also has had major costs associated with it. Food globalization in itself is a huge topic, and I am so not going there now, but just as an example: microwaves and instant dinners are increasingly more likely to be found in French homes; the European Union is setting food standards that are changing people’s traditional practices; there are now more invasive species (bugs are a particular concern) making their home in areas in the world where they have no natural enemies and are hard to control; there has been a huge change in the size of the global waistline due to both hunger and processed foods. And the list goes on. But we have a farmers’ market in lovely Withrow Park, and we are proud of both the people who sell there, and the people who shop there. Together we keep food real, and that is why we need farmers’ markets forever.
Some suggested readings for those of you who want to get more into the nitty gritty of food politics: “The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food” by Wayne Roberts, “Stuffed and Starved” by Raj Patel, “Food Politics” by Marion Nestle.
Article and Photos by Roberta Stimac, Withrow Park Farmers’ Market Founder
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