I’ve been dodging chefs, doing some fancy undercover work, at the inaugural “Chefs’ Hour” at The Ottawa Farmers’ Market. It had been my plan to see who showed up between 2 and 3 last Thursday afternoon – the hour during which chefs were given front of the line treatment. I was going to see which farmers they visited, who they chatted with, what they bought and from whom they bought, and then go dine at their restaurants to see what they were going to create with that which they had bought. Clever eh?
But the last part of the plan backfired, and so I cannot report on what Matt Carmichael (Restaurant E18hteen, Social) was planning to do with all those zucchinis, or what John Taylor (Domus) with all that elk. While trailing them, and others who came (Beckta chef Mike Moffatt, NAC chef Tim Wasylko, among others) I bought so much myself, I was left with no choice but to go home and make supper.
This staying home and cooking nonsense has been a difficulty of mine since Mother’s Day weekend, when the farmers’ markets opened. I now bounce out of bed on the weekends, grab some bags, a kid, a dog, a husband, and head to St Paul’s University on Saturdays, to Lansdowne on Sundays. I wander the stalls, chat with bee farmers and strawberry pickers, elk ranchers and bread bakers, and come home with bags bulging, wallet depleted, a fridge full of material I then have to face, and a big silly grin on my face.
Last weekend, breakfast was a spiced chicken burrito at Zucante’s. Mid morning snack was a smoked bison sausage from Pykeview Meadows on sourdough bread from Bread & Sons Bakery, and dinner were rib eyes from Fitzroy Farmers, with beets and salad greens from Jambican Studio Gardens, fresh peas from Limeydale Farm (with a drizzle of the coriander-mint chutney from Emerald Bakery) and strawberry love tarts with rhubarb compote from Four Sisters Food.
Last Thursday supper: peas with garlic scapes, elk burgers, strawberries from Abby Hill Farms, with chocolate cookies from Art-is-in-Bakery.
If it’s grown, reared, smoked, pickled, fired, sewed, designed, caught, collected, foraged, brewed or baked by folk who live and work roughly within a one hundred kilometre radius of the Greater Ottawa Area, it’s fair game at either the Main Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, or the much bigger Ottawa Farmers’ Market on Sundays (and now on Thursday afternoons from 2-7). Both these markets insist on particular criteria: goods must come from a defined local area; and they must be grown, reared, processed or caught by the stallholder.
There are immeasurable benefits to this sort of face-to-face buying and selling. Plus there’s an energy, a social buzz, a pioneering spirit at these markets that’s impossible to put a price on.
These markets are in their infancy. They are makeshift, established in parking lots, under rows of tents, at the mercy of the elements, birthed by people with vision and commitment. They are vitally important, and deserving of our support as they grow and evolve into something more permanent.
So go. Go with kids, your dog, a hat, maybe a raincoat. Bring some reusable bags and some cold hard cash. But do go. You are buying, directly from the source, the freshest, most flavourful, most local produce possible, and in doing that, you are supporting your home community and economy and helping the environment by reducing food-miles.
Ottawa is the richer for these places.
From the Main Farmers’ Market (Open every Saturday until September 27, from 9 am to 2 pm on the grounds of Saint Paul University. See www.sustainablelivingottawaeast.googlepages.com)
From the Ottawa Farmers’ Market (Open every Sunday until October 26, from 8 am to 3 pm and Thursdays from 2 pm to 7 pm. See www.ottawafarmersmarket.ca for details)