I was planning to start this week’s column with the first few verses of Gilles Vigneault’s chanson-à-répondre ‘I went to the market, mon p’tit panier sous mon bras, and the first girl I met…’ but I had to modify it to ‘I went to the market, an umbrella à mon bras…and the only girl I met was the site manager!’ She was very gracious in meeting with me and felt very proud in praising her village’s market, its facilities and its vendors. It was a cloud-covered rainy Saturday unfortunately and I wasn’t able to take a decent photo of the beautiful outdoor setting either: I guess you’ll have to experience it yourself on an upcoming Saturday. Derby Street at the former Daycare location, that’s where to go!
I must admit that I love markets, preferably outdoor ones: food markets, artisan markets, antique markets, flea markets, browsing at my own pace with a little cash in my pocket to ‘negotiate’ a somewhat ‘deal’, poking, touching and analysing the quality of the ‘stuff’… while people-watching and chatting with vendors and pure strangers. Heavenly experiences!
Farmers’ markets have been a success story throughout Canada’s history: the oldest one in North America was in Halifax, Nova Scotia; at the time, the area’s population was mostly soldiers, merchants and fishermen looking for produce; immigrants brought their European concept of farmers’ market to Canada in the 1800s and such markets have known a resurgence from 1970 on when new environmental concerns and ‘buy-local’ campaigns became factors. Now located in an envious harbor-side spot, it houses about 250 vendors. Another famous one was located in Hamilton, Ontario: it opened in 1837; Kington is said to have been the first one to open in 1827. Farmers’ markets are said to have originated in Egypt over 5000 years ago, where purchases were usually made by trade rather than money transactions. The first in the United States opened in Boston in 1634: it still today houses the famous Quincy market, a major city tourist attraction.
Markets are often shown to be the root, the initiation to small personal or family enterprises; if successful and the owners are ambitious, they’ll want to take a further risk and it may become a full-fledge retail business: just think of all artisanal beers that have flooded the market the last ten years! Farmers’ markets are a way for farmers to get their produce on market and to consumers, without the aggravation of contracts, marketing and retail space; prices can be kept at a competitive level with standard market prices while offering the option of flexibility. Whether you are a ‘local’ market fan like I am, an ‘out-of-towner’ just visiting or a full-fledge tourist, our region has a lot to offer. Check this one out!
The Vankleek Hill Farmers’ Market was established in 1997 as ‘an incorporated non-profit volunteer-driven organization’ (as per its statute). It respects and carries the tradition of offering farmers the option to direct-sell their fresh produce; in fact, as per regulations of Farmers’ Markets Ontario, it is required that 60% of vendors be producers and sell products from their farm. The organization internet site states that ‘the majority of vendors attending our market are local, primary producers of food products from their farm or artisanal business including produce, meats and baked goods; craft and personal care products also add an extra flair to our market.’
Following a stint of a few years at VCI’s parking lot and auditorium, the Farmers’ Market found itself a new niche on Derby Street, compliments of the Champlain township: nestled in a pedestrian and cycle-friendly dead-end street with a mature tree peninsula on which local artists are welcomed to set-up and entertain market’s patrons, a horse-shoe paved lot sees vendors setting up their parasols and kiosks, and show off their products. The distancing was ideal in order to respect COVID protocol. The market operates at this location year-round, moving indoors in the winter season, every Saturday from 9:30 to 12:30. At the present, there are 24 registered and approved merchants; the Market accepts applications seasonally from vendors interested in joining the group, but insists they must meet strict criteria and approbation by the board before joining. Come, see, become a weekly regular!