Can I start off by mentioning how incredibly lucky I am to be on Maternity Leave in downtown Toronto during one of the most beautiful spring/summer/falls that I can remember? It rocks. Tyson and I have spent literally hundreds of hours walking through the city streets and along the waterfront, picnicking and stroller-cising in the city parks, and relaxing on many of the city’s amazing patios. Jon and I have joked that it would be funny if the stroller had an odometer because the Bumbleride Indie has put on some serious kilometres over the past 7 months!
One of my very favourite activities of the summer and fall has been doing the tour of the downtown Farmer’s Markets. When I was growing up in Waterloo, I spent many Saturdays visiting the St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market, which is one of the best in Ontario. I really didn’t expect that I would have access to the same quality of fresh fruits and vegetables when living smack dab in the centre of the biggest city in Canada. There seems to be a market in every corner of Toronto – many of which are in walking distance from our condo. Most people are familiar with St. Lawrence Market, which is mostly indoors, open year-round, and is definitely the biggest market with the most variety. However, I find it extremely crowded, and a visit on a Saturday morning can often result in being stuck between wall to wall people. Super frustrating, especially with a baby (do not even think about bringing a stroller to the St. Lawrence Market on a Saturday – you will get a lot of nasty looks from other people. I learned very quickly that a baby carrier is the best option for this mayhem).
I much prefer the smaller, more intimate open air markets that pop-up in the various neighbourhoods downtown – usually in a park or a parking lot. Most of them are held during the week so I can hit them early before everyone else is off work (meaning I beat the crowds), plus the shopping experience is much more pleasant as I can easily navigate between booths and talk to the various farmers/vendors. With so many of these markets around the city, I could visit a different one each day of the week if I wanted to! I’ve had the pleasure of going to Trinity Bellwoods or Davisville Village on Tuesdays, Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesdays, David Pecaut Square (formally known as Metro Square) or Dufferin Grove on Thursdays and Liberty Village or Leslieville on Sundays. This is all kinds of amazing!
Besides the pleasant experience of strolling through rows of vendors selling mouth-watering goods on a beautiful sunny day (which is blissful), there are other reasons why I love visiting these markets. I was happy to discover that a lot of the vendors are certified organic or sell chemical free produce. In fact a couple of the markets sell only organic. I will likely delve deeper into the benefits of organic food in a future post, but for now it is important to note that organic produce means that it is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, without the use of genetically modified organisms and in the case of organic meat, it is produced with specific concern for the welfare of the animals. I try to buy as much organic produce as the budget will allow (with a focus on specific items), especially when it comes to the food I am feeding Tyson. The organic produce at the markets is usually much cheaper than it is at the grocery store and they have a much larger variety of items, all of it local.
Which brings me to another reason why I love the Toronto Farmers Markets – they feature primarily local vendors. You will find produce from nearby farms in towns such as Sunderland, Cookstown, Brampton, St. Pauls, Meaford to name a few, honey from Innisfil, tofu, crackers and preserves produced in Toronto – the list goes on and on. I love this because not only we are supporting local businesses, which makes me feel good, is good for the local economy and supports small-scale farming (a topic of which is also a whole post of its own!), but local produce is actually much healthier! If it is not organic, there are still typically less pesticides used on local produce than that shipped from the U.S. or overseas. It makes sense because many of the pesticides are used on produce to stop it from going bad during transport. With local produce, there is very little time between when the fruits and vegetables are picked and when they are being sold at the market. Less travel time equals less nasty pesticides required. I have chatted with vendors at the market who say that the produce they are selling was picked that very day! You can’t beat that for freshness.
There are also some studies that indicate that local produce contains more nutrients on average than it’s imported counterparts. There are many factors that contribute to a vegetable’s nutritional quality (again, another post!) but reasons behind this claim include the point during the ripening process at which the vegetable/fruits are picked and potential nutrient loss during storage and transportation. So basically, by eating local produce you are getting more nutritional bang for your buck.
Finally, and most importantly, I love going to these markets because I get to go with Tyson and I love exposing him to the sights, sounds and smells of a local Farmer’s Market. I know, I know – he is only 8 months old and granted he does sleep through a large percentage of these outings (a long walk typically equals at least a bit of a snooze!), but he is becoming more aware and curious about the world around him with each day that passes and he definitely loves to sit back in his stroller and take it all in. Although I doubt the visits this particular year will have any impact on his appreciation for local farmers, I do plan to continue to frequent local markets over his lifetime and I’m definitely looking forward to the time when he can help me decide which veggies to buy for dinner that night 🙂
I’m sad that this year’s Farmer’s Market season has come to a close for the most part. I am on the hunt for the best place to source some local produce over the winter. Any suggestions?