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 don’t recall eating store-bought eggs growing up. Surely there must have been times when we did, but I never really remember anyone buying them. What I mostly remember is my father coming home late from work every few weeks with a couple dozen eggs procured from a farm just outside the Halifax city limits. There wasn’t a lot of debate about why we went directly to a farm for eggs, and if there had been, I’m not sure it would have been of the “support local farmers” ilk. I suspect it was more that the eggs were cheaper than supermarket eggs, although, in retrospect, the gasoline used to go and get the things probably negated any savings.
And as a kid, I would have been hard-pressed to be able to tell the difference between farm and factory eggs, although the farm eggs (that never went to a grading station) occasionally turned out messy half-fertilized chicks that grossed out my brother and I.
As a grown-up, I buy supermarket eggs because they’re more convenient and because all three of the stores within walking distance of me carry some version of organic, free-run eggs. These are obviously not ideal in that the chickens are not free-range (aka. let outside to eat bugs and run in the sunshine) but are definitely superior in both flavour and ethics to the battery-caged industrial eggs that are more readily available.
The phrase “tastes like chicken” is beyond cliché. We use it for any whitish meat that we can’t accurately describe any other way – frog’s legs, alligator, lizard – guaranteed someone trying any of these for the first time will compare them to chicken.
But what, exactly, does chicken taste like? The specimens we get in supermarkets or most restaurants are all the same breed (White Rock), probably fed with some mixture of GMO corn and other grain, raised in a barn for optimum growth in a minimal time frame, and likely pumped full of a saline solution during processing to make the meat look plump and full and heavy.
But chickens come in different breeds, and like beef and pork, those different breeds have different characteristics, in the kitchen and on the plate.
At a recent tasting event at Victor Restaurant, participants got to clearly see the difference between breeds, and the phrase “tastes like chicken” no longer applies.
Over the past few years, Slow Food activists have taken part in a bi-annual event in Torino, Italy called Terra Madre. First held in 2004, the event brings together food activists from around the world in a giant conference and marketplace where people can exchange ideas and information. There are conferences, symposiums, dinners and markets, all with a focus on sharing ideas about how to promote sustainable food. Terra Madre takes place during the even-numbered years (2006, 2008… another coming up in 2010), and this year, Slow Food decided that it would be a good idea for individual convivia to hold local events – both as a great way to support local food producers, and because, well, not everyone can afford to get on a plane to Italy.
Organized and paid for by Slow Food Toronto (monies raised at the Picnic at the Brickworks allowed them to pay participating farmers and producers to take part, a rarity in the world of markets and trade shows where the producers usually have to pay to participate), this year’s Terra Madre Day took place at the FoodShare warehouse.
It’s almost April, and everywhere you turn people are planning their gardens – mapping out plots, ordering seeds. It’s enough to make a yardless city gal a little bit jealous, and I know I’m not the only one experiencing garden envy.
For those of us who can’t grow our own food (or who have ambitious plans in April that never seem to include weeding in the 30°C temperatures of August), the next best thing is to find our very own farmer who will do it for us – weeding included.
Spring is also when farmers start planning their upcoming growing season and is the perfect time for customers looking to get involved with a Community Shared Agriculture(CSA) programme to find a farmer to work with.
After the long hard winter we’re just now starting to see the back of, there were times when I almost believed that it wouldn’t end – that it would be perpetual winter forever. Fortunately Mother Nature takes care of things, and just like it has for every other year since the beginning of time, spring has arrived. Which turns the heads of farmers and gardeners to one thought – planting.
Since many of us city-dwellers don’t have access to a yard in which to grow our own vegetables, we rely on area farmers to keep us well-stocked with nature’s bounty. And as we become more in tune with the philosophy of eating locally and supporting local growers and producers, we city-dwellers need a quick and easy way to do that. While farmer’s markets are always a delight to visit, many people just don’t have the time, or else don’t have any way to haul their swag home.
Recently more and more smaller local farms have been setting up Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs in which customers can buy a share of the farm’s output for the year. Depending on the farm, customers can either pick up their weekly box of goodies at the farm, or else the farmer will make deliveries to a pre-set drop-off point a couple of times a week. But how are we city-folk who want to join a CSA supposed to find one? Drive around in the country, stopping at every farm we see?
One of the biggest complaints about local food is that it’s hard to find. Sure, farmer’s markets are popping up in many neighbourhoods, but the issues involved in getting local food to local tables, particularly restaurant tables, are many and diverse.
As part of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, a panel discussion and networking event that connected farmers and chefs took place on Monday, November 5th. Panel members included moderator Lori Stahlbrand from Local Food Plus; Tobey Nemeth, Chef de Cuisine at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar; Elizabeth Harris, organizer of the Brickworks Farmers Market; Mark Trealout of Kawartha Ecological Growers; Dan Taylor, Economic Development Officer of Prince Edward County; Paul Finklestein from the Screaming Avocado and Food Network Canada Show, Fink; Barry Monaghan from Fresh Start; and Sasha Chapman of the Globe and Mail.
Each participant took a few moments to discuss the question, “What is the most important thing farmers can do to address local food opportunities?”