In many neighbourhoods throughout the city, farmers’ markets have helped bring locally grown foods to everyday city living.
The markets have been steadily growing in Toronto over the last few years. Anne Freeman, the manager of Dufferin Grove Market, has played a big part in bringing local farmers to city communities. Situated deep within one of Toronto’s urban enclaves, this organic market operating year-round has been going since 2002.
A place for locals to get together, taste great food and be a part of their community, the Dufferin Grove Market has been extremely successful.
GNT: You’ve been involved with markets for a long time. What exactly is your role within the farmers’ markets in the city?
AF: I manage the Dufferin Grove Market and I help coordinate a networking project, so we have a Toronto farmers’ market network that developed as a working group of market organizers where I am still quite active. Then I was asked to become the project coordinator for Ontario’s Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network and we work for about 90 markets around the Greenbelt region; about a third of those are Toronto markets.
GNT: You speak passionately about Toronto markets. What are your favourite aspects of being involved in the market?
AF: I grew up mostly in the countryside and I’m a very avid gardener, so when I moved to the city I really missed that connection to the seasons. I love being part of the market–it’s definitely a labour of love.
I really love the fact that I’m still actively involved hands-on with the market, because really my favourite thing is helping farmers directly. So I like hauling tables around and talking to people about their crops, the tangible part of being connected to the market.
GNT: How would you describe the status of local farmers’ markets in Toronto today?
AF: Toronto markets are really growing; we have several new ones opening this year and we are seeing an exciting trend with more farmers joining the picture.
This year there are a couple of markets opening in some parts of the city areas where we haven’t had anything. There is one down at Humber Bay that looks really good and one out in Erin Mills in Mississauga where we haven’t had markets before.
GNT: Do you see an increase in support from local restaurants–are there a lot of chefs coming in and trying to take advantage of their local markets?
AF: For a long time there has been a strong group of chefs who have been interested in supporting local food. And more and more in the last few years, everybody is expected to have a local-food component on their menus.
A lot of the interesting Toronto restaurants want to have a local-food connection and the chefs have been really influential in that, starting with Jamie Kennedy and other well-known chefs.
GNT: How do you get the word out and get farmers involved with the markets?
AF: Now the word just travels. In the early days, when we tried to start the market at Dufferin, we didn’t know how to find farmers, because that was a decade ago and many people weren’t really hanging out on their computers, so there weren’t many established ways to find each other. But now everyone finds things out via the internet and email and that has helped farmers learn more about opportunities.
GNT: What are the benefits for farmers and new vendors who decide to take part in city markets?
AF: One of the biggest benefits is that farmers get direct feedback from people about how much they love their food. Not every farmer wants to come into a market and stand there and sell food directly. It’s very time consuming, labour-intensive and not always as profitable in certain circumstances. The farmers that enjoy it the most really thrive on the social interaction. They like hearing feedback from people about which crops get them really excited and they make great friendships in the market. There is a lot of loyalty to them and people really appreciate what they do.
GNT: How do you attract and select local farmers and vendors?
AF: We get a steady stream of requests from people to join the market, a lot more than we can accommodate. So we can’t give everyone an opportunity, but we do love to create opportunity for new businesses and help them to get started.
There is a selection process to choosing new vendors. In our case, the Dufferin Grove Market is an organic one so we ask a lot about production methods and we look for local and organic connections in prepared foods. We also value fair-trade relationships.
We try to consider what the market can support and what the market needs and consider what people are hungry for, literally.
GNT: What does it take to launch a successful farmers’ market?
AF: Usually, a successful market has a strong neighbourhood champion–somebody that is really working hard in their community to spread the word and to create a community feeling. It takes at least one very passionate individual, but they have to be supported by a team who wants to get the word out.
Often the markets that really take off are in neighbourhoods where people are seeking a kind of a community feeling and identity. Leslieville and the Junction have both launched successful markets in the last few years, partly because people want to identify with their neighbourhood.
GNT: Where do you see farmers’ markets going in Toronto?
AF: We are gradually filling in locations around the city and we are seeing new farmers join every year and I hope it keeps going that way, but I would like to see more and more people incorporate the markets as part of their weekly routines and make a real commitment to supporting local food producers. It should be a given that you always plan to be at your local market. Of course, my ideal goal is to have a great market in every neighbourhood.
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