Osgoode apple stand leaves Parkdale Market after half a century

Frank and Jenna pose for a photo at the apple stand.
Franco Spagnoli (left) and his daughter Jenna at the Parkdale Market on Oct. 20. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack

For over 50 years, the Spagnoli family has been a staple at the Parkdale Market.

The local farmers from Osgoode have sold apples at the Wellington West market since 1969. But after two generations, Franco Spagnoli said it was time to retire.

“It was just time. It gets harder and harder every year. It’s a very physical job,” Franco said. 

He took over the family business from his Italian immigrant parents 30 years ago, but has been working at the Parkdale Market since he was 10. 

In that time the market has gone through many changes. The stalls are becoming fewer and far between, he said, and fewer people are seeking locally grown produce. 

“It’s not as busy as it used to be. Once the pandemic came, a lot of the farmers that were here either retired or decided to sell from their farm gate,” Franco said. “With less vendors it means the market is not as busy as it once was. Hopefully they can bring some farmers back and get the market back to where it was.”

A variety of apples are on a stand.
The Spagnoli’s have sold apples at the Parkdale Market since 1969. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Ironically, Spagnoli’s best year in business was 2020. Lockdown restrictions meant more people were outside. It was easier to practice physical distancing, and shoppers were able to browse for produce without wearing masks.

While they have still seen a steady flow in business, Franco said it’s become tough to compete with the larger retail stores. When Loblaws moved into Westboro in the late 1990s, the community’s shopping habits began to shift.  

“We can’t compete with those prices. Some people just love the market and they are good with the prices that are set here,” Franco said. “But some people prefer the stores where it’s heated, and air conditioning and free parking.” 

Spagnoli’s daughter, Jenna, has been working in the family orchard since she was a kid. Jenna said she considered taking over the family business, but in the end decided against the idea to pursue her own passions.

“I did a lot of post-secondary education. Then I went on to do my master’s [in social work] in hopes that I’d have more options,” she said. “A part of me wishes I could do it, but I see how hard my parents worked. I respect them for it, but I don’t think it’s for me.”

A sign written on a chalk board let’s people know this is the apple stands last season in business.
Daughter Jenna Spagnoli considered taking over the family business, but decided she did not have the time. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Jenna said she considered perhaps starting a hybrid model where the orchard would be open only on weekends, but ultimately decided she didn’t have enough time. 

The five-acre family orchard on Nixon Drive grew a variety of apples including McIntosh, Cartland, Russet and Spartan. While they would be picked in September, farm operations continue year round. Trees need to be pruned in the winter, grass needs to be regularly cut and the soil fertilized. 

Franco and his wife Gaetane are hairdressers by trade. They used to operate a salon downtown called Cagney’s. In their new free time, the couple will still cut hair, and have converted Jenna’s childhood bedroom into a fine art studio as a hobby. The longtime apple farmer said he isn’t fully sure what retirement will hold, but said he looks forward to sleeping in and hopefully traveling. 

“Everything must come to an end,” Franco said. “It’s enough of the hard work, and time to take life a little bit easier now.”

The Spagnolis plan to keep their family farm in Osgoode but will be cutting down the 500 remaining apple trees. Franco said they have a lifespan of 30-50 years depending on the type of apples. The land will be reverted to a hayfield.

A woman purchases apples from the apple stand.
Customers flocked to the Spagnoli apple stand in mid October to purchase apples for the last time. Photo by Charlie Senack.

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