Etobicoke Civic Centre Farmers' Market
The Etobicoke Civic Centre Farmers' Market, which takes place every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from June until October, has been bringing some of Ontario's best fruit and vegetable vendors to this location since 2009. In fact, it's so popular amongst vendors and visitors alike that organizers are, sadly, unable to accept any new vendor applications. But then again, I'm a firm believer in 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'
It's a grossly-humid Saturday morning in Toronto when I pull up to the Etobicoke Civic Centre, reusable bags in hands and thirty-five bucks in my purse. This morning, approximately twenty vendors have set-up for the weekly Farmers' Market to sell a variety of fresh produce, vegetables, smoked meats, organic coffee and even freshly prepared rabbit. Before I even reach the parking lot, I notice immediately there's a happy buzz of people.
Here were some of my Market favourites:
Ralph & Emmy Lise's Farm Fresh Produce (Holland Marsh, Ontario)
A while back, a friend said to me, "Once you go fresh, you never go back." Okay, so it doesn't translate completely, but he was trying to tell me that buying fresh, local products just once will mean you'll likely never scavenge the discount shelves at the local grocery store again - even if it means paying a few extra bucks each week. Taking home some of Ralph and Emmy Lise's Farm Farm Fresh Produce - especially their yellow zucchini - will change your tastebuds forever.
The Lise Farm has been in the family for more than twenty-five years, growing tomatoes, green onion, zucchini, cucumber, strawberries, blueberries - all the summer favourites. One of their friendly employees at the Market is just 16 years old, who met the Lises through her local church and has worked for them for the last two summers. In fact, her grandmother once worked at the farm as well. Needless to say, Holland Marsh, Ontario, is a tightly knit group - but their commitment to their community and their local farm means they're continuing to serve the tastiest zucchini in all of Ontario.
Bentford Orchards (Beamsville, Ontario)
Speaking to the son and newest generation of Bentford Orchards, you can hear the family pride in his voice. Bentford Orchards has been a part of their family for more than three generations and is best known for their wide array of delicious blueberries, cucumber, peppers, corn, tomatoes and strawberries. These are, hands down, the best strawberries I have ever eaten. This is likely due to the Farm's growing regime; everything grown at Bentford is strictly organic, meaning they don't use any pesticides or alternatives to grow their fruits and veggies. It also means you'll see strawberries at their actual size, not chemical-filled and the size of your palm as you might see at your local grocery stores.
Warner's Farm (Beamsville, Ontario)
One of the great aspects of Markets like this one is the friendly people. At Warner's kiosk, I was greeted by a jolly hello and a good sense of humour. Warner's has been a part of the Etobicoke Civic Centre Farmer's Market since it began and has every intention to come back again next year. When I'm eyeing the golden raspberries (your traditional raspberry, but yellow), the vendor tells me about the clear divide amongst raspberry lovers - "red is sweeter"/"no, yellow is sweeter" and so it goes. "See for yourself and if you don't like 'em, you can pick anything you like off the table," he says, and hands me the bag. Now that's what I call customer service.
Fair Grounds Organic Café & Roastery (Toronto, Ontario)
By the time I get to Fair Grounds Organic, people are sweaty and cranky from the humid heat - but it doesn't stop many, including me, from getting into the line for a freshly-ground espresso and maybe picking up a bag of fair-traded coffee beans from Guatemala.
Fair Grounds has a particularly awesome story because they're offering consumers an alternative, ethical choice for coffee. They are dedicated to providing individuals with fresh, Certified Fair Trade and organic products. By choosing fair trade products, consumers are making a choice to help producers in developing countries obtain better trading conditions and promote sustainability. All their products are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, meaning healthier soil and waters--which in turn translates into healthier consumers. And, aside from all of that, it tastes delicious!
Armadale Natural Smoked Sausage (Dundas, Ontario)
It doesn't go unnoticed at today's Market that while most vendors are selling healthy fruits and vegetables, there's one vendor over by the south side of the Market serving up back-bacon sandwiches to a long line of salivating customers. My husband happens to be in the line-up for what he calls the "golden ticket" of the entire Market and has already decided he will add some hot peppers to his sandwich.
Armadale is best known for their all-natural smoked meats, meaning they are cooked by fire with natural wood, and are most popular for their varieties of bacon and sausages.
Drudge Family Farm (Wroxeter, Ontario)
The Drudge Family Farm really puts the "family" into the "farm." John Drudge, lead farmer and lead maple sugar maker, belongs to the fifth generation to take over the family business. The Drudges have been making maple syrup in Ontario since 1797!
John and his wife sell their maple syrup, pecan maple tarts, maple-infused breads and other goodies at the Market each weekend. Again, Markets are nothing if not tickets to delicious treats and the Drudge kiosk doesn't disappoint. I'm handed a small bowl with two hand-crafted mini donuts, drizzled with the Drudge specialty - maple syrup! I don't think I need to tell you that it tasted unbelievably delicious, and if it weren't for the embarrassment alone, I'd have gone back for more.
This is a great hot spot for good eats, though, sadly, not very accessible. If you're traveling without a car, you'll need to take the TTC to Kipling Station and then catch a bus. But it's well worth it for the best strawberries in Ontario, right?
Writing by Patricia Page. Photos by Jesse Milns.