I have a love / hate thing going on with some of Toronto's summer farmer's markets lately.
While I believe in Farmer's Markets and buying local and supporting our farmers I have been frustrated by a few of our local Toronto Markets.
I have been trying to go to as many different markets around town as I can over the past couple of years to see what the different ones offer and to see what different markets happen on different days.
While I haven't gone to all of the Toronto Markets I have gone to a lot of them.
Let's start with the GOOD.
1. I love to wander around a market and see new things and new vendors different markets. A lot of the small vendors come from either storefronts our are working their way towards brick and mortar shops and restaurants. I love to support that.
2. It's so nice to shop at an outdoor market on a bright and beautiful sunny day and get some much needed fresh air.
3. It's great to see who is getting your money as the money you pay generally goes to pay the farmer or vendor or the person you are giving your money to as apposed to a long chain of people.
4. Supporting farmer's and small vendors grows the economy in the city as they are able to directly spend it back into our economy or invest in the future of their businesses.
5. Generally no line ups. Not always.. I have lined up for a fish taco or something like that on occasion, but generally you can pick up stuff fairly quickly without going through a football field of processed foods.
6. Generally No processed foods, although some things creep in when it's prepared food that is sold. But if you are buying straight fruits & vegetables there isn't a processing plant dumping more stabilizing chemicals into the food.
7. You can get away with a lot less wasted packaging. Things aren't shrink wrapped and triple wrapped. If you buy potatoes you still get a plastic bag if you need one but that's it. It's not a container in a bag in another bag.
And now the BAD.
1. Recently I went to the Leslieville Farmer's Market which I love. It's a great sunday market with music and stuff for kids. Lot's of local shop vendors and a great variety. Very high quality food. Sounds good right? Yup it was great until I got back to my car and got a $40 parking ticket after I just spent $80 on all the vendors at the Market. As I was lifting off my ticket from my windshield I saw the parking officer stopped with a man speaking to the driver. My friend and I walked over to complain and found the gentleman was already doing a good job of complaining for us. The parking officer was doing everything to get away from us before more people surrounded the car. The man was very angry and called the parking office right away and complained and then gave the number to my friend who also called and got a lady on the phone that said she had already received a lot of calls from the market. She told my friend to call back the next day. She couldn't do anything. I should point out that there wasn't a sign on the street and the market is at a little park off of Eastern Ave. There isn't a lot of public parking there. I had gone to that market before as it's near where my friend lives. I parked in about the same spot as I had done previously when I didn't get a parking ticket. So why did I get one this time? My friend was more angry than I was and she called the next day to see if she could get the ticket cancelled. She was just told that it had to go through the court process. Talk about a waste of taxpayers time and money. Come on people. What's wrong with this city? The other man that got a ticket said that he came from North York as I did specifically to go to that market. It's a lovely way to spend a sunday afternoon but the cities greedy ticketing ruined the experience. Why would I want to go there again and spend money and then drop another $40 on a parking ticket and the added hassle? The people that lose are the vendors who aren't making a wad of money and people like myself who like to support them and have a nice time at the same time. Ok that was a big one. On to the next bad thing.
2. I picked up some fruit at another market closer to home the other day and went to wash the fruit and pulled off one of those supermarket stickers. In case you didn't know about the codes on those stickers; anything that starts with a 9 is organic and anything with a 4 is conventional. Ok.. so here's what got me upset. I am willing to pay more if it comes directly from a farmer and it's Organic. But when it's just conventional fruit that I can get at a supermarket for less money then what's the incentive other than a sunny day to go out of my way to a farmer's market. My closest grocery store is a loblaws that is a 5 minute drive away from my house and I can walk to a small Asian Market around the corner.
How would I know if it was just a vendor that went to the Food Terminal and just picked up a case of fruits and vegetables from who knows where around the world. I go to the markets because I am looking to support local and keep the fruits and vegetables off of the trucks driving down the highways for miles and miles or getting shipped days in advance on planes etc.
3. Let's go back to the parking. A lot of the markets around town don't have anywhere that you can park. They are assuming everyone that shops at the market is within walking distance. Well what if you are shopping for a family of more than 4 people? Can you carry a watermelon, potatoes, apples, tomatoes etc home on a bike or walking a distance? No I think not. I can walk to the thursday farmer's market in North York but I can't buy more than 2 bags of things because I have to walk it back blocks to get home and it gets too heavy to carry.
4. Let's talk about the hours. The farmer's market hours are all over the place. Some start at 8am and go until 2pm.. some start at 3pm and end at 7pm... there's one I would like to go to on saturday but it starts at 8am and ends at noon and would take me at least 45 min to get there and there isn't much parking so unless I leave my house at 7am it's not worth going there.
5. What's available. You can't control the weather so the one factor in going to the markets that wastes a lot of time is the fact that if the weather is bad some vendors don't go to the market or they go to other markets on other days. If the seasonal weather is bad then it's unpredictable what you will find at the market. It's tough to shop for what you want to make if you can't find the ingredients you need. I understand this but I have had to go to multiple markets to get the things I need because they either don't have a vendor that sells lettuce or whatever or they have sold out. Then I have to go to a grocery store after all of that to get my missing ingredients, defeating the whole purpose.
6. Buying market foods don't last as long as supermarket foods which is probably a good thing because that means they are more natural products but it's bad because unless you run home and start cooking you don't get much shelf life before they rot as most are picked at the ripest point. I have had to throw out a few batches of strawberries and cucumbers etc before I was able to use them up. That's bad.
7. Getting to the markets in Toronto. It's becoming like an obstacle course or something from Amazing Race to get to a farmer's market in Toronto with all the constructions and street festivals and charity runs around town. You can't bike there, you can't drive there so unless you live across the street be prepared to waste a whole lot of time getting there.
Ok.. so that's my list. It seems as though the Good and the Bad are pretty evenly divided. So you have to make your own decision as to where you are going to shop this summer. I will continue to explore the markets in search of a market that has more good than bad reasons to give them my money.
Here's my pick of some of my favourite markets.
1. Leslieville - if you can bike or walk there it's a great market.
2. Brickworks is really nice but it's a pain to get there.
3. St. Lawrence Market has that saturday market feel with regular vendors and the option to go to north and south buildings and get all kinds of things.
4. East Lynn Market is a lovely compact little market with parking available and really great produce vendors.
5. St. Jacob's is the ultimate Farmer's Market and worth the drive to Elmira/Kitchener area and there is parking. Lot's of mennonite farmer's selling straight from their farms nearby.
You can get a list of the markets from the Toronto Farmer's Markets website.