“The Ottawa Farmers’ Market,” said in a daydreamy voice, “Let’s go back soon. Perhaps tomorrow. Or later today. Again.”
Visiting this market was such an awesome experience, just as farmers’ markets should be: an avenue to experience, interact with, and support the local producers, processors and craftswomen and men that define the local community and food system. This experience has the potential to change the way consumers think about food, leading to a variety of positive outcomes related to health and economics.. but, I digress.
Similar to my hometown’s Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market, the Ottawa Farmers’ Market has more than 100 diverse vendors with products ranging from fresh produce, wild game, handmade soap, homemade Sriracha, grass-fed beef, gluten-free dessert, jewelry, coffee and other ready-to-eat food items. There is also live music from local artists, food tastings, demonstrations, and an overflow of community support which provides for an overall mirthful environment in which to shop, eat, and gather.
Given my background in federal nutrition programs at farmers’ markets (and a general lack of self-control), I promptly approached the info tent after arriving to ask the coordinator about the market’s history. I was particularly curious to hear about farmers’ markets in Canada and how they differ from those in the U.S.
The coordinator explained that this producer-run market was developed to support small-scale farmers and producers from an area 100 kilometers of Ottawa. This means that all 100+ producers who attend this market grow or produce their product no more than 100 kilometers (that is 62.13 miles) from Ottawa. I found this to be both absolutely incredible and interesting, as there is no set definition for “local” in the U.S and I am always curious to see how different institutions and entities define such.
I also learned that there was no Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) (or Central Point of Service Machine) machine at this farmers’ market, likely because the country does not have a program similar to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). Although EBT machines at U.S. farmers’ markets target SNAP recipients, they are not necessarily used exclusively by SNAP recipients. EBT machines allow for consumers to swipe their SNAP benefit card and credit/debit card in exchange for market tokens that can be used to purchase items from each vendor at the market. At the end of the day, the vendor gives these tokens to the market manager in exchange for payment. This EBT system provides the convenience of using credit/debit/SNAP benefits directly at businesses that would have otherwise not had the opportunity to capture such an audience, ultimately resulting in increased revenue for the producer and access for consumers.
Another interesting point is that this market runs 4 days a week directly outside of a Whole Foods Market. A Whole Foods Market! As each business likely attracts the same crowd, wouldn’t there be a problem with competition? Grocery stores typically have the potential to negatively impact sales at farmers’ markets, but not here. The Ottawa Farmers’ Market seems to be engaged in some kind of symbiotic relationship with its neighboring Whole Foods Market and that is just awesome.
Although I did not have the chance to talk with every single vendor (I mean, there are over 100), I did have the opprotunity to talk with many of them as well as try the delicious products that they produce.
Products that I am particularly crazy about include:
- Pickled wild garlic
- Mixed game jerky salami
- Duck eggs
- Homemade Sriracha and BBQ sauce
- Ontario peaches (all of the fruits & vegetables, really)
- I had to stop somewhere, OK?!
Without question, this farmers’ market is one of the best that I’ve ever visited. The environment, variety of vendors, community support and market structure truly provide for a fulfilling and positive experience.
Have you ever been to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market?