Thursday, May 30, 2013

Birth of a Farmer's Market: Fairmount Park

It is spring time. Late into spring in Toronto is the time when farmer's market sprout from local parks. In the last few years, I have been lucky to see East Lynn and Leslieville start their markets. Now, a place closer to home has carefully planted the seeds at Fairmount Park.

Farmer's Markets done in this way still feel a little odd to me. I grew up in a rural area where most people grew their own food and traded and gave away their excess. The definition of excess was quite fluid as people would can, freeze and store as much as they felt they would use over the winter.

When I got my driver's licence and ventured into cottage country further south, road side stands advertised blueberries, corn, peaches, watermelons and pumpkins. Further afield, road side distractions like the Big Apple and various corn mazes and haunted house specials made the farm into a bit of an amusement park atmosphere. There were still times in late fall and early spring where you could stop at these places and see the storefronts dwarfed by the fields and not be drawn in by people watching.

Moving to Ottawa, I encountered traditional farmer's markets where produce is invariably trucked in from nearby farms to the Byward Market, and in Toronto, St. Lawrence Market. Some of these market's have been around since the beginnings of the city and even beget permanent places such as Atwater in Montreal and the St. Lawrence Market South.

A funny thing has happened from the early days of local farmer's bringing in their wares. Big agriculture is one of the trends that has caused people to become divorced from their food with the advent of the foodie culture pulling the other way. This is the tension that shows in every market in this city.

Each step away from the traditional roots of farming brings me more removed from the ideal of growing your own food. Now my circle of friends in their 30s to 50s show their punkness by razing and renovating, growing gardens and making meals. This is their way of giving it to the man. There is a note of privilege that is missing from my formative days in that we can afford to buy organic/local produce. We try to reduce the money that we give to Galen and his testament that farmers will kill us.

Caution and sanity must reign in the way that it did not work out for the hippies who were too naive and didn't think beyond the currency of their movement. There is a 90s jaundiced view of the whole system that realizes that we are both a part and apart of it. Some try to minimize impacts on mother earth or maximize the food and nutrition they eat.

So, local used to mean within a certain limit to the city that was understandable. The CFIA has changed local to mean anywhere within a province or 50km of that province. Should local matter in this day and age? Now that we have modern refrigeration  and food processing, is there any reason to care? Well, no and yes. That would be a blog post on its own. In short, local means that you have an accountable person rather than a company behind the food you are eating and you are supporting a local community. It also tends to cost more for smaller productions with higher labour costs.

Organic is one of the other touchstones. There is still great debate on whether an organic system could feed everyone. Another blockbuster of an issue that I will just gloss over for now. Biodynamic systems have come a long way and we are still trying to figure out the differences between older subsistence farming methods, "traditional" or conventional farming and organic or biodynamic farming. Sometimes, we realize that we haven't come as long as we had hoped with science. This is one of those areas - food and nutrition is such a black art.

Anyways, Fairmount Park on their first try out shows some of these dynamics at play. Taking a look at their list shows  organic producers, farmer's who were already cultivating hothouse produce, greenhouse sprouts and organic plants. Alongside these, there were local meat producers, restaurants, music studios, small food products and others. It was to good to see some farmer's there but the ratio is a little off. I am sure that if this becomes a weekly event then the ratio will be better as it will provide more than a one-time offering for farmers.

What I got.

I overheard a conversation of a couple of friends who seemed to realize that the public park was their park. They started talking about other parks that had implemented a pizza oven and a community dinner. These types of conversations happen when public spaces become community spaces. History shows us that we do have to be careful, after all it is the tenth anniversary of Yonge Dundas Square which has become more commercial than intended. We don't want it to become any old circus but rather the circus that we choose. Good job on the first market. I hope this continues, selfishly, as it is so close to home and gives me grist for my blog.


  1. how can one become a vendor?

  2. I have forwarded/posted your comment on their facebook page @ Let me know if they do not get back to you as some of the people who have started this live in my neighbourhood. I'll track them down.