Armed with lists and their reusable bags, shoppers at the weekly Birchcliff Village Farmers’ Market seek out locally grown and locally made provisions. What they leave with, however, is something far more valuable than any coupon offer or weekly special: Connecting with members of the community, supporting local growers and artisans and making a commitment to consuming better, less-travelled food are just some of the upsides of shopping at a local farmers’ market.
Seven years ago, Gail Ross, along with three other women in her community, realized her neighbourhood needed a re-vitalization. The area, in Toronto’s east end, was weighed down by a struggling retail strip. “We wanted to support a walking community and create a hub for bringing people together,” says Ross. From that goal, the weekly market was born.
In the first year, Ross recalls there were just six vendors, tucked behind a local church. “Now we’ve sprawled across the back and around the front and we’ve grown to 20 vendors.” The markets support a “handmade, homemade, earthmade” mandate, featuring farm-fresh produce, meat and cheese, fresh baked goods and bread, fish and seafood, honey and preserves and meals-to-go. Alongside the food are local artisans selling art, jewellery, pottery, soaps and more. The vendors, whom Ross refers to as family, set up their tents and tables, year after year, from June until October, eager to not only sell their wares but to foster the community spirit.
Above all, Ross is encouraged by the number of children who turn out each week with their parents and grandparents. A trip to the grocery store might be easier without the kids, but a visit to the farmers’ market is a family affair. “Kids today can recognize something like 500 marketing logos but can only recognize two plants — and one of them is a dandelion!” says Ross. “That’s a scary thought, and it makes you want to take responsibility for getting people reacquainted with their food.”