By Roberta Stimac
The European spring of 2008 was just about as wet as it is this year in southern Ontario. We were followed or met by rain pretty much everywhere we went, and even though we caught a sunny break in Aix-en-Provence (see Love Story Part I), we again caught up with the rain (or it with us) in Venice (as you can see in the photo below).
At many markets I’ve seen on that spring’s Euro travels, crafts and flea markets were a part (even though often set apart) from food markets. One section of the market area would be dedicated to “farmers” (I am using quotation marks since some of the vendors were re-sellers) and other produce vendors, while another section of the market would be dedicated to flowers, crafts, and an assortment of goods (like faux Crocks). In coastal towns it was fun to visit fish markets or see fish mongers’ stands set up in yet another section of the market, and the meat was often set up in another area as well. (The image below is a wooden household items crafts booth at Zagreb’s Dolac farmers’ market.)
Vendor set up planning is important. As we’ve seen at the Withrow Market, sometimes fried food smells don’t mix well with others, and certain goods like coffee and pastries make better neighbours than soap and cheese. Creating a balance to everyone’s satisfaction can be a fine art and takes great attention to detail. (Below: a fish monger in Venice.)
Many of the European markets I visited had some sort of infrastructure in place; the Withrow Market like several other Toronto markets are in, well, parks, where there isn’t much infrastructure available (like running water, electricity, and storage) if there is any at all. At Withrow we are lucky that there is some infrastructure and we have access to it, but nowhere near the level as let’s say some of the markets I’ve seen in Venice and Croatia have. But then again, they have fewer markets than Toronto, where market culture has practically exploded (we’re a big city, so should be able to handle it).
Occasionally even the tables were made of fixed masonry (as in Bjelovar): a vendor would generally just show up with their goods and a tent a parasol in the case of open air markets, the table was already provided. In Venice there were a couple of markets: an open air one shown in the rainy photo above (sorry, don’t remember the exact location of it, but if you go to Venice, just get lost in the narrow streets and you’ll find it), a covered one like the fish market (Mercato Del Pesce) near the Rialto bridge, and sometimes even floating produce stands on boats.
In Zagreb the main market is an uncovered outdoor area, but it also has an adjacent enclosed indoor area (that’s where you can find fish). There is also an additional enclosed space (underneath the open air market, which is elevated) for more produce, prepared foods and meats. Because there is electricity in those venues it’s possible for vendors to have fresh meat and fish. In the case of many outdoor Toronto markets, our vendors mainly sell frozen meats, since we just don’t have the Wattage needed to power refrigerators, and the transportation and moving of the fridges would be a logistical and physical nightmare.(The images below are from Zagreb’s Dolac market. From left to right: the covered fish section, the raised open air section, the enclosed street level section.)
In my native Bjelovar, the market is covered, with permanent tables, and many of the vendors are still actual farmers (most of them the wives and grandmothers in the family) selling surplus or speciality products like seedlings, or home-made egg noodles.
I spoke with one vendor who said that farming is becoming increasingly more challenging due to the emergence of giant supermarkets that sell anything and everything (including local produce) seven days a week. Consumerism has arrived in a fervently capitalism-pursuing Croatia, and it will do very well once the country gets out of its economic depression. All “progress” and change come at a cost; let’s hope that the farmers and Croatia’s food culture are not the ones paying the ultimate price.
Our next stops on this whirlwind virtual tour of Europe will be in Austria and then Germany, with a short trip down a childhood memory lane of treats. Happy strawberry season!
Article and Photos by Roberta Stimac, Withrow Park Farmers’ Market Founder
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