By Paula Roy
From spring through fall, visiting a farmers’ market is a feast for all the senses. There’s the sight of gorgeous baskets brimming with freshly picked fruit and vegetables, the sound of happy conversations between producers and consumers, the scent of delicious baked goods, the taste of myriad sampling morsels and often, the sound of live music upon which to feast your ears.
We’re fortunate to have more than two dozen farmers’ markets – mostly seasonal – located less than an hours’ drive from downtown Ottawa, making it easier than ever to access locally grown and produced items of all kinds, including heirloom and exotic varieties of fruit and vegetables. So why make the trip to a market? There are numerous environmental, social and economic reasons for supporting local producers. Plus, farm-fresh doesn’t just taste better; its storage life is also superior to much of what you’ll buy in a supermarket.
The human element of shopping at farmers’ markets can’t be overlooked. You’ve got experts at your disposal – after all, farmers are eaters too so they can often dispense excellent advice about the best ways to store, cook or preserve the fruits of their labours. Perhaps the most important thing of all is that we can shop directly from farmers and producers who put heaps of effort, care and love into what they bring to market.
Here’s the lowdown on some of the region’s most popular markets:
The Ottawa Farmers’ Market has three locations – Fridays in Orleans, Saturdays in Westboro and Sundays at Brewer Park (moving to Lansdowne Park next January). The combined markets include over 200 vendors offering produce (including lots of organic items), locally raised meat, honey, maple syrup, eggs and grains, baking, artisanal chocolate, preserves and arts and crafts. While the Orleans market is smaller, the larger weekend editions serve as a wonderful social hub thanks to the food court, kids’ play area, market musicians, chef demonstrations and tasting events showcasing the best of what is in season.
Pro tip: One of the many good reasons to visit an Ottawa Farmers’ Market location is to pick up delicious baked goods from Art-is-in bakery, which can otherwise now only be purchased at their City Centre location since they stopped wholesaling to other retailers.
The newest market in the region is the delightful Beechwood Farmers’ Market, operating on Saturdays at 99 Beechwood Ave. in New Edinburgh. In its first season it has already developed a loyal following, thanks to an array of excellent vendors including many of the region’s favourite purveyors of prepared foods. Special features include kids’ activities, their Roaming Breakfast, an in-house chef and weekly local musicians.
Pro tip: This is the first Ottawa-area market to take advantage of the opportunity to sell VQA approved wines; the first winery on board is Prince Edward County’s Harwood Estates.
The City of Ottawa oversees the popular ByWard and Parkdale Markets, an important part of Ottawa’s food heritage. Located in Hintonburg, the Parkdale Market is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year and is home to a mix of local producers and resellers, easily identifiable thanks to the Savour Ottawa signage. The ByWard Market, established by Colonel John By in 1826 to provision the builders of the Rideau Canal and their families, is one of Canada’s oldest continuously-operating markets.
Pro tip: The ByWard Market is open 363 days per year, with evening shopping – the only market to do so – on Thursdays.
Other notable markets include:
Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market – Ottawa’s only year-round Organic Market is open on Saturdays at Bank and Heron, behind the Canadian Tire, offering certified organic meats, baked goods, produce, teas, herbs and skin care products.
Main Farmers’ Market – operating on Saturdays at Saint Paul University, this is a community-run market, featuring nearly three dozen local producers selling their own goods. Special events include seasonal food festivals, a petting zoo, wagon rides, face painting and more.
Carp Farmers’ Market – the largest producer-based Farmers’ Market in Eastern Ontario takes place on Saturdays at the Carp Fairgrounds from May through October. The market includes frequent seasonal events including a kids’ club as well as a Garlic Festival and special Easter and Christmas markets.
Marché Vieux Hull – The market takes place on Thursdays at Gatineau’s Laval, Kent and Aubry Streets and features over 35 producers, growers and artisans offering a variety of regional food and agricultural products. Freshly prepared lunch items are on offer.
Marché Vieux Chelsea – Operating on Saturdays, this popular market includes many certified organic growers as well as such treats as smoked fish, wild foods, wine and ice cider, crafts and more. On the last Saturday of each month, “Mini Marketeers” under 16 are invited to open a market stall of their own.