By Roberta Stimac
I love farmers’ markets, I truly do, but in 2008 I had this overwhelming urge to get away. The first year of running a market (never mind all the work that went into organizing it) left me feeling burnt out, and I really needed a break from the market, which was just entering its second season. The market committee and I did the reasonable thing and hired a market manager, who, with the support of committee members, was going to hold the fort until my return, and beyond. The market was starting on May 24, and guess when we were leaving for Europe, dear reader? May 24! (Below is an image from opening day 2008.)
We (my significant other and I) were (almost) fully packed and ready to go after the market, but we had to get through the day first. We were up and at it bright and early, after a restless night due to my brain humming “did I get everything done; think of everything; is the new guy going to be OK?” etc. My sweetheart and I were living in the hope that we’d at least sleep well that night on the redeye to the UK. (As Alexander Pope says in An Essay on Man: “Hope springs eternal…”, he must not have known about screaming babies and uncomfortable economy seats on planes.)
Market opening day went without a hitch, and we made it to the airport on time. After another sleepless night, we landed in London, exhausted, but excited, mostly because we were back on the ground able to move around freely, and in anticipation to hit our hotel room bed. And what was my plan for the first day? To visit one of the London farmers’ markets! The idea was to just grab a cab and go to the nearest Sunday market, but 2 sleepless nights and one crazy busy market day put a stop to that plan pretty quickly. So, sadly, I have absolutely nothing to share about London farmers’ markets, ‘cause I haven’t been. But it’s on my to do list for next time.
We did, however, stop by a market on our way to Oxford and then on to the Dover ferry docks, and here’s also an image of this very old (built in 1627), but very cool market hall in picturesque Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. (feature photo)
The problem with our little Euro-trip was that we didn’t spend a good chunk of time in any one place. We were in London for 2 nights, then in the Cotswolds for 2 nights, then in Dover for 1 night sleeping at the, what we called, the Bates Motel. (We called the quaint little B&B that, inspired by the fact that even though the B&B was fully booked (we apparently got the last free room), we never saw nor heard a soul; neither a guest, nor the young man’s mother…) We didn’t do any actual farmers’ market visits until we reached Paris, and even then there wasn’t enough time (3 nights) for a decent browse.
Checking the internet upon our return, I remember that at the time there were approximately 90 Paris markets, some of which were food markets (many of them attended by bona fide farmers) and some of which were (and still are) flea markets (which we didn’t visit – there’s only so much temptation I was willing to endure, and no time). There are currently 82 farmers’ or food markets (3 or which are organic), and there is a market open every day of the week. (There’s a neat little pocket book called Markets of Paris I’d like to recommend to all you book, Paris and market lovers out there.)
If I recollect correctly, the markets are run by the city, who provides and puts up tents and whose staff do the clean up afterwards. I only visited a couple of Paris markets, but can’t remember which ones. At least there are pictures to show you, and maybe one of you readers will be able to identify the locale. (Let us know via our facebook page, where you can also share your market travel stories with us.)
The next time we stopped at a market was in Aix-en-Provence. Oh man, we just fell in love with that town and its fuzzy fountains.
There was a flower market and a food market, but also a couple of flea markets one of which was a roadside clothing market with, as far as I recall, nothing but comfy, flowy, white dresses, blouses and pants (nope, didn’t take any photos of that). Since we were blitzing through (3 nights), as in previous places, we did not have a chance to really chat with the locals and find out what farm life and market vending were like for them.
This was super early June, and the tables were loaded with fantastic produce diversity. This is only a small sampling of the photos I’ve taken (what a feast for the eyes and the senses!).
We are not big into seafood, but the displays certainly seemed contrary to what we knew about the state of the global fisheries. On the next trip I hope to make time to actually chat with the folks behind the tables.
The one thing that came across clearly on our trip was that there was a sense of tradition at the markets we visited in France and elsewhere in Europe, while in Toronto, there is a definite sense of newness about markets. For one, many farmers we saw in Europe were older (or perhaps it was just my imagination). Take a stroll through Toronto’s markets and many of the faces you’ll see belong to “young” farmers – a new generation making farming and urbanite hunger for local and seasonal foods work for them.
And here is where I’ll leave you for now, dear reader. The next stop (coming soon in Part II) will be Venice and Croatian markets. With a couple of final stops in Austria and Germany in Part III.
Article and Photos by Roberta Stimac, Withrow Park Farmers’ Market Founder
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