Three Farmers Markets in Toronto, Canada

Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010

Green Barn Farmers Market, Toronto

Green Barn Farmers Market

Evergreen Brick Works Farmers Market

Evergreen Brick Works Farmers Market

Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010

Liberty Village farmers market

Liberty Village Farmers Market just before opening time

Toronto has a thriving farmers market scene, with at latest count 18 sprinkled in neighborhoods around the city. Thanks to growing consumer awareness and improved market governance, an increasing number of the “farmers markets” in town actually live up to the name – which is to say they are markets where real farmers sell what they themselves actually grew on farms in the vicinity of Toronto.

Not long ago, by some accounts, as many as one third of the so-called farmers selling produce at Toronto farmers markets were peddlers. The city’s wholesale produce terminal had an entire section to cater to ersatz farmers, where they could load up their pickup trucks with a pretty array of produce trucked in from who knows where, which they could resell to unsuspecting consumers later that day as if they had grown it themselves. A group called Farmers Market Canada cried foul three years ago, for reasons that the group’s leader, Bob Chorney, discussed in an interview with Truly Local, Seasonal Chef’s blog on farmers market integrity, in 2007. In response to those concerns, FMC launched the first two grower-only markets in Toronto two years ago.

The Stops Green Barn Farmers Market
601 Christie St.
Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon (year-round)
(416) 652-7867

This summer, there were four farmers markets in Toronto with a zero tolerance for peddled produce, including the Liberty Village market that I visited on Sunday morning. Those four markets operate under the MyMarket umbrella. As the group’s web site explains, the venues are “Canada’s first certified farmers’ markets featuring verified farmers, selling only what they produce….Our markets will be bona-fide producer based and will champion the cause of real farmers and producers across the province.”

Farmers who sell at the MyMarket sites carry a MyPick credential. “When you see a vendor displaying a MyPick sign, you can be sure you’re getting just-picked freshness from the grower’s own farm, and are helping support local agriculture,” the group’s literature declares.

Evergreen Brick Works Farmers Market
550 Bayview Ave.
Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (year-round)

Another of the markets I visited, the Green Barn Farmers Market on Saturday, has looser rules about who can sell what. It operates under the auspices of an impressive organization called The Stop, which has a much a broader mission than running a farmers market. It is an organization that got its start as one of Canada’s first food banks, and serves16,000 people in a low-income part of town. Over the years, it has branched out into numerous other activities aimed at ensuring that all residents of the city have access to good food, including running a community kitchen, greenhouse, garden and a brick oven.

The Stop’s programs, including the farmers market, are housed in and around the Artscape Wychwood Barns, which are recently restored historic structures that formerly served as streetcar barns and now provide affordable space to artists and an array of not-for-profit organizations and community groups.

The Stop’s focus on the needs of Toronto consumers more than on the interests of Ontario farmers is reflected in the vendor guidelines for the farmers market, which state that one of the goals is to “maintain a balance of products in the market.” That balance includes lots of nonfarms items and may also include produce that wasn’t grown by the vendor or even grown in Ontario. The “primary focus” of the market, however, is on local food sold by those who actually grew it, the guidelines state.

With that in mind, the rules specify that at least half of the vendors at the market must be farmers. And a vendor wishing to sell produce that wasn’t grown in Ontario “must request an exception from market organizers in advance.” Re-selling of produce purchased at the Food Terminal or other wholesale outlet is not permitted, the guidelines declare, but up to one-quarter of what a farmer offers for sale in the market may come from “neighboring farms.” A farmer seeking to take advantage of that loophole “must post information about the source and provide contact information to the market manager before bringing the produce to the market.” But those vendors who bring a neighbor’s produce to resell must wait until those who are selling the same items from their own farms have sold out.

The third market I visited, the Brick Works Farmers Market, is also located in a repurposed historic industrial facility. The former brick factory now serves as a community environmental center that is an “international showcase for urban sustainability and green design.” It houses a farmers market each Saturday year round.

– Mark Thompson

Liberty Village Farmers Market
Liberty and Atlantic Ave.
Sundays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

slide show

What I Bought

Marina di Chioggia squash
Marina di Chioggia squash
Price: $8 for the Marina di Chioggia
$4 for the Black Futsu (below)
(all prices in Canadian dollars, which at present,
are roughly on a par with U.S. dollars)

Dianne Webber, of Esker Ridge Farm, sold me these spectacular squash at the Liberty Village Farmers Market. She was a fount of information about each. The huge, dimpled Marina di Chioggia squash, which would tip the scales at 8 or 10 pounds, is a variety that was originally from Peru but has been grown in Italy for centuries.

Black Futsu squash
Black Futsu squash
Price: $5

The Black Futsu is a variety that has been grown in Japan since the 16th Century. It has undertones of hazelnut, Webber said, a flavor that is most pronounced in the skin, which, its rough appearance notwithstanding, is perfectly edible.

prune plums
prune plums (top) and musk melons (bottom)
Price: $4 per basket or $6 for two for plums
$1 for musk melon

I bought this large batch of prune plums, two quart baskets, for a total of $6. The melon, just as the farmer who sold it warned, was not sweet and wouldn’t have been particularly satisfying if eaten as a dessert fruit.

But following his advice that it would serve best in a chilled soup, I scooped out the flesh and tossed it into a blender along with the other ingredients in my basic recipe for gazpacho. For that purpose, in a word: perfect.

musk melon

hakurei turnips
Hakurei salad turnips
Price: $4/bunch

I had recently interviewed Trevett Hooper, a young chef who is making waves in Pittsburgh, and he had sung the praises of Hakurei turnips. So I couldn’t pass up this bunch when I saw them at the Green Barn Farmers Market. I sliced a few of them raw and tossed them in vinegar for a picnic side dish. The rest, I chopped up and sauteed, greens and all, in olive oil and garlic, and stirred in some spaghetti and parmesan cheese to make a delicious Hakurei turnip pasta.

stuffing tomatoes
stuffing tomatoes 
Price: $.50/each for stuffing tomatoes

ground cherries
ground cherries
Price: $5/basket

Also known as husk tomatoes, after one of its botanical relatives, or cape gooseberries, these tart-sweet tidbits can be used in the same array of ways as tomatoes — eaten raw such as in salads, added as a flavoring for meat or vegetable dishes, cooked into sauces or turned into relishes, chutneys, jellies or jams. Since they are quite sweet, they also serve well in desserts such as pies. By one account I came across in googling ground cherries, they are good dipped in chocolate. Here are several groundcherry recipes.