The Quest for Food

By Willa Wick in Food

Although things have come full circle, one can no longer find live pigs at Farmers’ Markets. In fact no live animals can be sold, nor are vendors allowed to have pets on the market grounds.
A farmer has always had the undisputed “right to sell” any produce of his farm, orchard or garden.
A century ago farmers’ wives churned cream, and their young boys would walk or bicycle to town to sell the butter to customers. Milk (unpasteurized) and eggs were sold the same way. Nearly every “Mrs.” Farmer had a flock of hens. Apple orchards were the mainstay of many farms for extra revenue until the hard winter of 1934 killed literally thousands of trees. In the years before, and during the great depression acres and acres of potatoes were hand hoed by teenage boys for 25 cents a day just so the crop could be sold in the fall.
Strawberry and raspberry patches became common, only today they’re advertised as the U-Pick style thus saving time for the vendor.
A high point in my mother’s market gardening career during the 1950s was the morning she, my sister and I picked 64 heaping quarts of raspberries. She drove to town, and delivered them to her customers for the grand total of 50 cents a quart.
Road-side or end-of-lane stands have always been a popular and common sight for fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and baking. Regulations for health concerns have been implemented and unpasteurized dairy products can no longer be sold directly from the farmer. Many single-family sales have been replaced by Farmers’ Markets. This promotes regional agriculture by providing the opportunity for small family farmers to sell their locally grown produce as a group to consumers. In some places these markets attract thousands of people.
This unique relationship of rural producers and urban residents has revitalized communities by weaving a diverse outdoor market network. Markets produce fresh and nutritious food thus improving consumer health. Diversity of products and the re-introduction of foods such as heritage tomatoes and other vegetables has inspired culinary trends and influenced chefs. Many organic farms offer the Fresh Food Box or Garden Goodies Box where pre-packed cartons contain the best of what’s seasonably available. A CSA Share (Community Supported Agriculture) has the flexibility to buy by the week and share quality and variety by a group purchase.
A growing awareness of food diversity and nutrition has made Farmers’ Market shopping a weekly ritual for many urban shoppers.
Shoppers love markets because they get to meet the actual people who produce the food plus they get an insight to some local farming practices. Buyers can often find products they won’t find anywhere else. Vendors love markets because they know they’re assisting clientele to eat healthy, plus they receive feedback on trial products. Communities love markets because they bring people together. Everybody loves markets because they’re fun.
If every household in Ontario spent $10 a week on local food there would be millions added to our local economies at the end of the year.
Many organic farms are springing up around the country and this is a positive thing as it brings back the concept of the small family farm. It also renews the sense of the rural community, restores the connection between people and their food, and reclaims small portions of agricultural land to a self sufficient livelihood.
Taste Real is a “made in Guelph-Wellington” project where growing food is creating local small business opportunities to feed the people with fresh nutritious fruits and vegetables. Taste Real partners with restaurants, schools, growers, producers and processors in developing a food chain in agriculture.
In 2010 the Minto Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Town of Minto, the Harriston-Minto Agricultural Society, the Palmerston Agricultural Society, and the Minto Farmers’ Markets, introduced ‘Savor the Flavors’ a one-night gala event featuring sample meals produced by 30 area vendors. This one-of-a-kind (and always a sell-out) venue helps to expose and promote local farmers and chefs.
One of the first trials in Minto was in the early 2000s when the Clifford Rotary Club held a weekly market at their new pavilion park. Although there were a few loyal vendors and customers for three years it wasn’t in a high profile traffic location. Later Minto’s Economic Development Plan included a Farmers’ Market, and again the location was Clifford, this time on Main Street. This venue attracted approximately 10 vendors each Friday afternoon where customers could purchase fresh garden vegetables and fruit, preserves, meat, plants, and some local crafts.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of shoppers the vendors requested a move to a larger centre, so in 2011 the market moved to the pavement lot of Harriston Motors.
Fresh nutritious produce is gaining in popularity as are the numbers of vendors and organic farms.
In 2010 a second one-day market started in Palmerston spurred by the interest of the High School Green Club. In 2012 Minto opened a second formal Farmers’ Market which was held at the Palmerston Train Station each Saturday from 9 a.m. till noon.
The Harriston Market has moved again, and for the 2013 season it will be held at the former train station keeping its regular hours of Fridays 3 – 6 p.m.
Farmers’ Markets are not fly-by-night stands. They are governed not only by their own vendor rules but by government regulations. At a recent 2013 organizational meeting participants were introduced to one of the new regional Inspectors for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. Inspector Silvia Leonov explained the various regulations, new and old, regarding products and conducted a lengthy Question & Answer period.
Goods found at any Farmers’ Market are a premium product and are priced accordingly. Even though produce may be the same as found in large grocery stores it’s considered ‘premium’ because it is fresh, local, grown by people you know, and most of it is organic. Conscious shoppers are willing to pay a little more for produce they can trust.
This doesn’t mean the pricing is exorbitant – again it is regulated. There is no “dumping” of items or selling discounted produce. Vendors must take into consideration their time, effort and expenses in growing their product. Even if some are hobbyists doing it for fun they must remember that for others it is a business and they rely on market income to make ends meet. Items will not be reduced at the end of the day. This is not a Garage Sale; it’s a weekly market with pricing prominently displayed and consistent throughout the afternoon. You will find very little price difference from one vendor to the next for the same product. Some shoppers pick a favorite vendor, others “shop around the square”.
Food handling must maintain high standards of personal hygiene and cleanliness with no cross contamination of articles. Baking products must be on covered shelves or else individually wrapped.
Toothpicks or small paper containers must be used for sampling food.
In Minto the 2013 market season starts Friday, June 7th at the Harriston Train Station (3 – 6 p.m.) followed the next day, Saturday, June 8th, 9a.m. to noon at the Palmerston Train Station.
Rejoice that communities can be built and maintained by sharing food the good old-fashioned way.