The Wychwood Barns Farmers' Market
Walking into the Artscape Wychwood Barns "Green Barn" Farmers Market is like being a kid in a candy store. Local farmers, bakers, and producers of cheese, honey and jams sell fresh food and treats every Saturday morning, making it a one-stop-shop for all kinds of cravings. Grocery shopping has never made me more hungry.
Walking up to the big beautiful barns, I was instantly approached by market regulars and swooped up for a Wychwood trivia-filled tour. For the people who spend their Saturdays shopping here, it isn't an errand - it's an event, and the whole family's coming.
"This is Ted from Thorpe's Organic Produce, he is the king farmer of the market," said Jack, pointing out a fellow regular of the Barns. "He's barefoot here in the summertime, and he sells the best produce."
Ted races and hops around his three overflowing tables of fresh cabbage, scallions, and tomatoes, while continuing his friendly debate with regulars, about last week's carrot crop.
It also seems that foodie culture starts young at Wychwood Barns. I'm schooled by eight-year-old Joe, who tells me about the best cooking methods to make meals from goods bought at the Barns. My jaw drops as I listen to this keen youngster, who tells me about last week's dinner his family prepared using a "naturally sourced pistachio-crusted Georgian Bay white fish."
Just outside Wychwood's wooden doors sits Paul, the famous baker from St. John's Bakery. He chortles as I pout, looking over his eight big empty baskets. No buns for me. Then my new baker-friend gives me the hush sign and hands me a massive loaf of bread from under the table. It feels soft and crunchy in my hands. I immediately start musing about sandwiches.
Walking into the barns, it's hard not be struck by the industrial enormity of the place - not to mention the smell. Most farmers markets I frequent are outdoors, but at Wychwood, all the goodness is sold under one yummy roof. The market is set up in no particular order with honey sold next to fresh pasta, sold between prosciuttos, next to fish sandwiches, next to cheese. Some of the purveyors supply in no particular category as well, selling large spreads of pies, carrots, jam, cured meats and potatoes - all on the same table. It seems the thing to do at Wychwood is to find your favourite stand and let that family hook you up with whatever you're craving.
One such family could easily be the clan from Highmark Farm in Cookstown. I meet Marcus and Damian, brothers and partners at the farm. Their table is laid out with soups, cheese, heaps of fresh produce and a wide range of meats - pork, wild boar, chicken, sheep and rabbit. The brothers tell me about Highmark's organic farming methods, where they spray garlic concentrate and liquefied copper to on vegetables instead of pesticides - a self-taught trick that keeps the produce more safe and natural. Standing at their table, I am also given soup samples and lessons about their family's Italian and Greek background. After prying myself away, I found they had sneaked some fresh mint-seasoned Halumi cheese into my bag, along with their Mother's recipe for frying it with homemade ouzo pasta.
My tummy rumbles as I head over to the honeyed aromas at Karen's Kitchen - a table that appears to have almost sold out in the first couple hours. Karen is a woman in demand, and bakes about 350 gluten and sugar-free loaves, muffins, tarts, bars and buns per week. All the treats are made with "her own special flour blend of arrow root, millet, rice, bean flour and quinoa, and are sweetened without sugar."
"I've just got a good oven," shrugs Karen, "and my husband does the shopping."
I try her carrot, pineapple and coconut muffin, topped with caramelized cinnamon honey. It is a surprisingly sweet and fluffy breakfast confection. She sends me home with a maple, strawberry rhubarb loaf, wrapped in pink paper. It keeps my big pocket warm, and smells just like Fall - with a little hint of the coming holidays.
After shaking off my pastry coma (and many muffin crumbs), I visit the Toorshi Foods pickle table. I go for the spiciest pickled pepper on the table and then go straight for my water. Although it's only their second year at the Barns, the Toorshi family have been pickling veggies for over 50 years. Today the clan keeps busy pickling up 200 jars per day.
I spend another hour or so, meandering about about the market, introducing my palette to more delicious treats and chatting with the vendors. Leaving I promise that yes, I'll be back next week. And I go home full and happy.
Writing and photography by guest contributor Kate More.
Check out this video from earlier this year, featuring city councilor Joe Mihevc at the market: