On Saturday mornings between May and November, you will find me at the Withrow Park Farmers’ Market. As the market manager, I’ve lucked into a job that involves enjoying the sunshine, speaking with community members, listening to local musicians, and sampling delectable organic food.
The Withrow Park Farmers’ Market has been a vibrant part of the Riverdale community in Toronto since 2006. It provides a beautiful venue for city residents to purchase fresh, seasonal food directly from Ontario farmers and local businesses. But Withrow Market is about more than just delicious food. It is about creating connections to our community, to independent food producers and to nature. Farmers’ markets connect us to a whole web of social and ecological relationships. Good food connects us with farmers & chefs, plants & animals, culture & history and the people with whom we are our meals.
One of the amazing aspects of a farmers’ market is that it is so much more than just a place to buy your groceries – it’s a destination, an event, a meeting place, even a tourist attraction. A trip to a conventional grocery store is a chore, while a trip to the market is an opportunity to relax, spend time with friends and enjoy your surroundings. Markets build community networks as they give neighbours a place to connect over common values.
Farmers’ markets give consumers a chance to hear the food producers’ stories, learn about sustainable agriculture and discover the seasonality of produce. Most of the food-like products that we consume today come from large corporations who receive the financial benefit of our purchases. Upwards of 80% of the cost of store-bought food goes to processors, packagers, distributors, vendors and advertisers. Only very small portion reaches the farmer. In the case of international imports the percentage that reaches the labourer is much, much lower. By choosing the shop at the farmers’ market, we are concentrating financial resources in our own communities and supplying living wages to farmers. When we eschew corporate structures like grocery stores and packaged food, we can begin to mend the modern production and distribution system.
Perhaps most importantly, farmers’ markets also give market patrons a positive, practical way to reduce their environmental impact. After years working for environmental charities who used fear and guilt as motivators for action, I’ve come to believe that real change must be inspired by love, excitement and hope. I believe that food provides a powerful tool for sharing a positive message. When you bite into a juicy, sweet, fresh-off-the-vine tomato and compare it to the cardboard equivalent passing for a tomato in the grocery store, no additional convincing is required. The health benefits of organic food require no embellishment. When speaking directly to a farmer, terms like humanely-raised, organic and biodynamic aren’t buzz words used to up-sell products, but simply part of their firsthand experience.
Which brings me back to Saturday morning, when I’m standing in the middle of the bustling market, surrounded by tables piled high with bright, fresh fruits and vegetables. I am once again reminded that the path to a healthy diet, a strong local economy and a vibrant community passes right through the farmers market. So when people ask me what I do for a living, I answer saving the world, one tomato at a time. Want to join me?
Do you have a local Farmers’ Market in your community? What’s your favourite seasonal produce?
Now It’s Your Turn! Find a local Farmers’ Market and buy some delicious, seasonal, organic produce. Take the time to get to know the farmers, learn about the community initiatives in your neighbourhood or pick up a healthy recipe and enjoy the atmosphere.
Disclosure: I used to manage the WPFM, and am admittedly completely biased towards how great it is, but I was in no way compensated for this post. Just sharing what I think is exciting and positive.