It’s easy to lose touch with the seasons when you live in the city. It doesn’t much matter what the season is because life’s rhythms are not governed by nature, they are self-imposed. It makes no difference whether you get your groceries on Monday or Thursday – the food items are pretty much the same every day of the week. The supermarket aisles are stacked with out-of-season produce that has travelled further than some people do in their lifetime. There is little to inform us that a new season has arrived.
Farmers’ market season changes all that. From May to October, we are treated to an abundance of local produce (much of it organic) from the fertile fields and valleys around Vancouver. The grocery shopping schedule changes from ‘any day ‘ to ‘market day’. These ‘make it, bake it, grow it’ markets are vital for connecting us with those who sustain us. You’ll find it all there, from vendors as diverse and unique as the products on display: organic flowers, fresh-picked produce, breads, pies, condiments, honey, crafts, and hand-made cheeses. The economic benefits for farmers are obvious – direct sales to consumers mean no broker fees and our support helps develop sustainable agriculture.
But, more importantly, both vendors and buyers are enriched by the dialogue that takes place on market days. It’s about developing relationships. Buyers have become a savvy bunch, say the vendors. They really do want to know who is growing their food, how they are cultvating it, and how to prepare it. They’re curious about a lot of things (including the names of the cows that have provided the milk for the cheese!). And the vendors get to meet the people who will be eating the food they’ve produced, hear feedback on their products, and give advice on various matters from gardening, to cooking, to medicinal uses of common herbs. They even get to share vegetable jokes. (Did you hear the one about the talking potatoes?)
The seaons starts in May, with early crops of salad greens, rhubarb and rapini, followed by other delicate greens in June. The abundance of the fields is most evident at the peak of summer, from mid-June to mid-September, with every kind of vegetable brought to market – carrots, peas, leeks, beans, broccoli, eggplant, fennel, and the long-awaited juicy red (and yellow and orange) tomatoes. The harvest finishes with sweet corn, root vegetables, and squashes of every variety.
It’s the fruit, though, that we wait for like children for candy. The local strawberries ripen first, intense and rich in flavour. Bumper crops of raspberries and blueberries are next to arrive. Both crops thrive in British Columbia – half of Canada’s raspberries and almost all cultivated blueberries are grown in the fertile fields around Vancouver. Tree fruits – cherries, plums, peaches and a dizzying variety of apples are delivered from the Okanagan area throughout the summer for those who can’t make the three hour drive to the orchards in the interior of the province.
If you can’t wait for market season, you can always head for the Granville Island Public Market. With 50 permanent food vendors, and many day vendors, the food market is sure to have what you’re looking for. Although most of the produce is imported through the winter months, the variety and abundance are enough to tempt you out of the winter doldrums. The food market houses greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, bakers, and specialty merchants offering things like tea, pasta, stocks and exotic Asian spices. And, when spring finally does appear, local farmers are invited to sell their produce direct to the public on Thursday mornings. You’ll find them in the parking lot beside the food market building.
Information on the dates, times, and locations of Farmers’ Markets in the Vancouver area can be found at www.eatlocal.org. Granville Island Public Market is open every day (except Mondays in January) from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (www.granvilleisland.com).
Linda Rainaldi is a lawyer by profession and has worked in legal publishing since 1980. She is also an active member of the Slow Food Convivium in Vancouver