As far as eating locally in Ontario goes this time of year is even more difficult than the darker days in January. Preserve stores have dwindled, hardy greens like kale and brussels sprouts that benefit from a little frost are past due, and we are left with only the best-storing apples, potatoes, beets, and squash. And the same holds true for the small farmers and other vendors who run stalls at local markets. If you believe that our relationship with these markets should be more patron than just consumer–i.e. that we should be motivated by more than just finding the best food most cheaply–this is the time of year to buy the preserves, honey, frozen meat, and baked goods that don’t get nearly as much notice in August.
With this in mind I convinced a friend (it didn’t take much arm-twisting) to take me on a tour of The Stop’s Farmers’ Market in the Artscape Green Barn on Wychwood Avenue. It’s also more snappily known as just the Wychwood Market.
Even three hours in, the barn was still packed with market shoppers. The gentleman behind the empty baskets on the St. John’s Bakery table looked smugly satisfied. And with good reason as I’m told they always sell out and that 8 AM is the time to be there if you want some of the City’s best bread. Luckily an offshoot of this baked magic is available more regularly at Woodlot where the head baker, Jeff Connell used to work at St. John’s.
Speaking of sold-out the highly recommended bacon from the friendly Mennonite vendors in the centre of the market was gone by the time I got there. I consoled myself with a package of their Berkshire Italian sausages. The difference between a grocery store and a farmer’s market is made abundantly clear by the contrast between Loblaws’ “Temporarily Out of Stock” signs and the gentle ”oh, well, we won’t have bacon until we process some more hogs.”
Another obvious to-buy for this time of year is seeds for my vegetable garden from vendors like Urban Harvest. I still have a lot seeds from last year’s order but appreciated the opportunity to get some friendly advise on how to fill some holes. Specifically, I’ll be growing more beans this year and some Dinosaur kale. They are already sold out of some seeds (like the delicious Charentais melon, I got Crenshaw instead) so stock up soon.
On top of the wide variety of excellent vendors I was most impressed by the vibrant community that gravitates to Wychwood. I ran into friends both new and old and from the tweeting-while-eating world as well as the St. Clair West neighbourhood. The attached cafe (good sandwiches and soups) and the absolutely idyllic greenhouse are perfect sanctuaries from the hectic market.
As well as Wychwood the other big, central markets, St. Lawrence North, Evergreen Brick Works, and Dufferin Grove, are open during the winter. A pretty good list of Toronto’s markets (including some others that have moved inside for the season) can be found here.