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posted January 25, 2005

THE THURSDAY RINK HOUSE FARMERSí MARKET: 3.30 TO 7 P.M. -- The Winter Period

The Dufferin Grove Park farmersí market is now deep in its winter period, so itís all held inside, in the change room area and also in the zamboni garage (on Thursdays, the zamboni is banished outside, to the basketball court). The food thatís sold at the market is mainly certified organic, and itís very good food. Food with the "certified organic" label is now a big global business. You can find any kind of food in any season, thatís got the organic label. But for many market customers, the "organic" part is no more important than the "local" part.

At our market, the same farmers who sell their own produce in the summer are allowed to import long-distance fruits and vegetables in the winter. They still sell their own root vegetables too, and of course the meat and baked goods vendors are not dependent on the seasons in the same way - they sell their own products year-round.

Importing high-quality organic produce from the California mega-farms helps the farmers from our market get through the winter, but everyone will be glad when the local growing season gets going again. The joy of local food is that the market customers get to know the people who grew it (and cooked it, in the case of prepared foods). Whatís more, the customers know the terrain where the farms are. The farmers can tell us even more: for example Ted Thorpe says the reason his carrots are so sweet is because his farm near Guelph has a little microclimate where the frost comes later. So he can take the gamble of digging the carrots up very late, before the ground is frozen but when itís already so cold that the carrots have become sweet from staying in the field so long. Thereís no test-tube mystery to those carrots, but thereís a story, right from the grower.

Even where raw materials come from a distance, the preparation is nearby. The park bakers get their hard-wheat flour delivered from the prairies, but the loaves are mixed and risen in the park. The fire to bake them is right there too (the wood the bakers burn in the park ovens comes from trees that are cut down in the neighbourhood, or skid wood that park friend and carpenter Alan Carlisle brings us from Downtown Lumber on Ossington). The hands that shaped the bread are the same hands that put it in the bag for you and hand it over, and if you want to know more, you just ask the bakers (park staff Dan Malloy, Matt Leitold, Lea Ambros, Amy Withers, and soon, Gabriella Mihalik).

The market food, the prices, whatís for sale in any given week - all this comes with so many stories. If farmer Ute Zell canít easily catch the wild boar because a boar is a wily fellow who keeps his distance (and he gets to be outside), that means you often canít get wild boar sausages. But when Uteís husband Tom does catch the boar, and their neighbouring butcher turns it into roasts and sausages, the price is fair and it makes sense (if you know the story). And when you eat the sausages, you know that it was worth the wait.

In some circles organic and small-scale "artisan" foods are thought of as elitist, marketed for people with money to burn. But the people who buy food at our park farmersí market are neither rich nor snobbish. Weíre ordinary people, living in a big city, in tricky environmental times. There are some farmers, growing fine, plain food, living nearby. They come to the market because they want to sell their food and they really like to know the people who they grow for. What luck, for us.


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