Print Edition: July 2, 2014
For me, the farmers’ market is one of the highlights of the season. As summer stacks those sunny days, I get an itch to see the wares on offer, fill a bag or basket with fresh produce, and smell the freshly baked loaves of bread. However, the past few weeks have seen some epic, Saturday snooze-button battles instead of trundling out of my apartment to the market downtown.
This past Saturday reminded me how much of a pick-me-up the market can be. The day started out sunny despite the forecast, and at 9:30 a.m., I was walking down Montrose Avenue in my sandals, sans umbrella.
The moment I reached the intersection across from the twin lines of white tents, the sky opened up. It was actually a fortuitous — and thankfully short-lived — deluge, as it drove me under one of the first tents in the market lineup. Safe from the threat of drowning, I had the opportunity to chat with Val Dobie, whose husband Dave makes the pottery at her table.
Bowls of varying sizes, mugs, and jars with lids were set neatly along the tabletop. Some were smooth with pearly hues and others deep rich blues with flecks of iron. Still others had a rough, sandy exterior texture with a smooth interior bowl. Dobie explained these were made with a red clay called “Rod’s Bod,” which can give that gritty texture or, when glazed, cause iron flecks. Dave Dobie also carves some of the designs, waiting until the clay is semi-hard then painting a slip to give the design a positive/negative effect. Other patterns are made with clay stamps.
I skimmed past tents offering berries and cherries to linger for a moment by the music tent, where a pan flutist played. Across the way, a florist sold beautiful bouquets with lupines, peonies, and other colourful garden flowers. There was honey at one table, homemade jam at another. I stopped at a display of handmade soaps by Mountain Farms, which I could smell from a couple tents away, and marvelled at the fine details: tiny soap raspberries sculpted along the curved edge of one bar, others decorated with swirls and flourishes of colour. All the soaps are paraben-, sulfate-, and petroleum-free. The seller explained that while basic soap-making is not so tricky, it takes time to learn the special techniques and designs. She also noted the milk-based soaps are harder to make because the milk reacts differently with the lye.
I also checked out the Farmacy, an organic farm at Yarrow’s eco-village. One of the farmers, Marcel Koppejan, had helpful answers to my questions about kale — they had a few different types available. It struck me then how valuable it is to be able to talk to the person who grew the food, or made the soap you’re buying, whereas your opportunity to do so in a grocery store is limited. You also always get good service at a market — in a store it can be difficult to find anyone at all, let alone someone who can answer your questions about products. To my excitement, there were also fresh snap peas for sale at another produce tent, some of which I ate fresh and some I added, sliced, to a chicken and alfredo sauce for dinner.
After that, I followed my nose to the Gesundheit bakery and bought a piece of German apple strudel. At the nearby Ivy Oven tent, I added an asiago scone and a brownie to my baked purchases, then had a few samples at Golden Ears Cheese — the cumin gouda was a winner, incredibly creamy and flavourful. The last stop was the Apple Barn tent; I couldn’t leave the market without a small bottle of apple cider.
The best part of the market is not just the pottery or the snap peas. It’s feeling like part of the community, even just for a morning. Unfortunately, higher-density living doesn’t always mean heightened bonds with the people who live, work, and grow food right next door. The farmers’ market is a little about the products and a lot about the people you talk to, the people who smile as they pass you in the street, and the people who care about your well-being. That’s a little mood-boost I can’t get from hitting the snooze button.