Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of excuses as to why people don’t make the effort to shop at farmers’ markets, with the most oft-heard one being that there just isn’t anything accessible and easy to get to. This has changed considerably in the past couple of years, and downtown Toronto now has over 20 separate markets, with at least one market taking place every day of the week during the summer and early autumn.
Which begs the question – have we hit a saturation point? Are markets the new Starbucks with two on every corner?
On Thursdays in the downtown core, there are now three separate markets within walking distance of each other. The market at Metro Hall is the most established of these, with a selection of vendors who are predominantly farmers. There are many vendors selling the same in-season produce, but this tends to create a healthy competition that keeps prices reasonable. During the lunch hour, there are live performances, and half a dozen food vendors along the south end of the square selling everything from Caribbean food to crepes to peameal bacon on a kaiser.
While there are a few farmers’ markets that continue to run throughout the winter and spring seasons, they usually take place on Saturday mornings and are not always convenient. One of the wonderful things about Toronto’s farmers’ market scene in the peak season is that there are so many markets, scattered throughout the city, conveniently located near either home or work for most people.
During the summer, markets at Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesday mornings and Metro Hall on Thursday mornings are both extremely popular. Workers in the downtown core frequent these markets not just for grocery shopping but use them to grab snacks of baked goods or fresh fruit. When the markets shut down in the fall, this large population is under-served.
I’ve got to admit that the Wednesday morning market at Nathan Phillips Square is still my favourite of all the farmers markets in the city. There is no face-painting, no snack stalls, no fun activities for the kids. Heck, usually there are no kids. And while there are “Fresh Wednesdays” concerts from noon to 1pm, it’s mostly just farmers and customers who are serious about their produce.
Most of the customers are, in fact, workers from within City Hall or the nearby office towers on Bay Street. To accommodate these customers, many of the produce vendors selling stone fruit ingeniously offer mixed baskets of seasonal items to accommodate snacking. Usually retailing for around $8, baskets can include cherries, peaches, plums and apricots, and as the season moves on, will see the addition of small sweet pears, apples and grapes.