By Andrea Tomkins –
Saturday, October 28, was the last day of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market (OFM) in Westboro. It was, in the words of Stephanie Kittmer, Market Manager, “crazy busy.”
This was a good thing, considering the shaky start to the growing season. The Ottawa Valley had record rainfalls in the spring. In May, approximately 180 millimetres of rain drowned farmers’ fields all over the region.
“It was probably the worst beginning to any season we could have had,” recalls Greer Knox, president of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market Association. “We couldn’t get on the field to plant, and we couldn’t get on the field to harvest it, so it was really a dreadful start this year.”
But, as we know, it turned out all right. The lost days at the beginning of the growing season somehow materialized at the end. “Some of the crops that normally would have been finished by late September just kept on going, so we had a really really good late summer and fall,” says Greer.
On this day, the stalls were full of carrots, beans, Brussels sprouts, onions, broccoli, even tomatoes, which were late but in abundance in October.
“It’s been a very good year for this market,” says Greer.
Regulars already know that a trip to the market is not just an ordinary excursion to buy food. The social aspect is part of the experience, and not just for residents, but for the vendors as well.
“The community is very supportive of this market, which is really nice. It’s the same customers every week. You see your regular customers, you chat with them,” says Greer. “It’s a really nice aspect of this market.”
The news hasn’t been good for every farmers’ market across the province. In September, CBC exposed “homegrown lies” at farmers markets. A Marketplace segment showed some Ontario vendors misleading consumers about their produce, passing off imports as produce they had grown themselves on local farms. Greer wants residents to know the Ottawa Farmers’ Market has mechanisms in place to protect shoppers and prevent this from happening.
“We are a very strict market and we do not allow any reselling. We police it, we have a mechanism in place to go out and inspect farms if we suspect something might be going on that’s not above board,” says Greer. “We really pride ourselves on being a local producer market. So everything here is either grown or made locally by local producers.”
What you see is what you get. All the vendors are from within a 100km radius of Ottawa. Greer points out the only vendor who is not local is Warner’s Farms, who is at this market by invitation. Warner’s is a fruit farm in Beamsville, information which is clearly displayed on the front of the booth.
As for next year? Greer says the OFM is hoping to “increase the ambience” of the Westboro market and hopefully entice people to stay a little longer and socialize with their neighbours.
With no storage in the area, no running water, and no washrooms, it might prove to be a challenge. The first step, however, might be within reach: seating.
“If we had more picnic tables we’d probably be happy to buy umbrellas to go on them so that they are more inviting,” says Greer thoughtfully. “We are limited in our size. Other than that, we’re just hoping for an earlier start to the season next year.”