Story by Brianna Bell
Photography by Daniel Bell
It’s bright and early on Saturday morning, and as much as I would love to take cover beneath my duvet and sleep until the afternoon, I have things to do and places to be. Outside, the air is cool and the sky is cloudy, and I’m thankful that I chose warmer clothes for this overcast mid-August weekend. My husband Daniel and I venture out about a kilometer from our house to the Guelph Farmers’ Market. The market is already busy, bustling with vendors and locals with their reusable bags and canvas rolling carts.
A local farmer is selling rows and rows of deep blue blueberries, so ripe that they look like they may burst if you just look at them too long. Another vendor has a table of happy-looking flower arrangements, likely plucked fresh from her garden nearby. I see bags of tangy apples; nothing sweet is in season yet. A sweet and sugary scent fills my lungs, and I know I’m close to the melt-in-your-mouth donuts made fresh by the second.
The Guelph Farmers’ Market is a staple in the Guelph community. The market is 190-years-old; as old as the City of Guelph itself. It’s history is rich and deep – woven into the culture of a city that has always marched to a different beat.
Earlier in the week I spoke with Stacey Dunnigan, the Manager of Culture and Tourism with the City of Guelph. She tells me that many are surprised that the Market operates under the City, but it has been this way for many years. We talk a bit about the fascinating history of the Market. Nearly two hundred years ago the farmers’ market look quite different, with a Livestock Auction of cattle and horses, along with grain, hay and produce stalls where local farmers sold their goods.
Since 1968 the Market has been operating from its current location at 4 Gordon Street, an old Show Horse Barn converted into an open space where tables are erected and the community gathers to purchase foods harvested nearby.
Ms. Dunnigan shared that 120 vendors sell on a regular Saturday from April to November, when both the indoor and outdoor market is opened. When the weather is too blistery cold for an outdoor market, the number of vendors shrinks to a still impressive 80.
“We focus on being as hyper-local as much as we can,” said Dunnigan.
The Guelph Farmers’ Market has a “farmers first” policy, which means that local farmers are given priority and a coveted spot, and then resellers, artisans, prepared food vendors, and community organizations are allocated a spot. The market acts as a community hub for a city that over 120,000 call home.
Whenever I am able to make it to the market I always bump into friends and acquaintances. If I happen to see a close friend, I usually take a peek into their bags and ask them where they have stopped so far. We swap recommendations and sometimes a tasty treat out of each other’s bags. It feels like time has suspended in some ways, we step back into an era where people were brought together by real food, grown in soil close to home.
As I walk down the aisles on this particular Saturday I stop to chat briefly with the busy vendors. Kenny’s Produce are resellers, but they have been selling at their large stall for nearly forty years. The family’s many generations work together, busily scribbling orders on a pad of paper and reaching over one another to grab bright fresh produce.
Brantview Apples and Cider are handing out an apple to customers passing by. We talk briefly about the different varieties of apples in season, and which apples will be arriving soon. Greengate Farms is selling beautiful cuts of pork and beef, all humanely raised on their farm in Kitchener, where they have been raising cattle for over 96 years.
Each vendor has its own unique history and story to tell, all equally fascinating and unique. I wish I could talk longer, but the farmers are busy attending to their customers, smiling and greeting familiar faces, carefully packaging their orders and sending them on their way.
Before leaving I grab some ripe blueberries. The beautiful thing about local food is that you must seize the moments when they are in season, because if you wait too long you won’t have the chance to taste that bright bursting flavour until the next year. Once I get in my car, ready to return home from a satisfying and energizing morning at the market, I scoop a handful of the berries into my hands and eat them all at once. They burst as soon as they hit my tongue, leaving their mark on my fingertips.
There’s something about local food that brings us back to our humanity, and our connection to the soil and the earth. The Guelph Farmers’ Market is a testament to the fact that no matter how advanced we become, we will always come back to our roots, and the foods that stain your lips and hands and remind us of how good life is.
To read more about the history of the Guelph Farmers’ Market please click here.