Canada’s Barrie Farmers Market keeps producing in winter

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Barrie Farmers Market

Fresh produce is still in evidence at Barrie Farmers Market. Photos courtesy of Mary Harris

During winter the vendors of the Barrie Farmers Market move indoors, safe from the fickle whims of Mother Nature in this central Canadian city. Barrie, a one-hour drive north of Toronto, Ontario, has seen two 1-foot snowfalls already this year. But today — a market day— the weather is mild and some of the white stuff is melting away.

The vendors are packed quite tightly into the rotunda of the city hall today. Their summer space surrounds a reflecting pool just outside, but now ice skaters have taken over that area until the warm weather returns. No one seems to mind. The market is alive with shoppers — a veritable beehive of keen activity!

My photographer son in tow, I try to decide what to check out first. Aha, there’s Glenn Weatherall of Hempola Valley Farm. He’s easy to spot with his long, wavy silver hair, and I recall that he once worked with my husband more than a decade ago.

“Hemp?” my teen son asks, with one raised eyebrow.

It’s not what you think! Glenn is amazed that I remember him and he explains the uses and benefits of the hemp seeds he has laid out for sampling – high in fibre, protein and omega 3, 6 and 9.

The veggie scene in Canada

Some foods grown in Canada — such as apples, rutabaga turnip, squash, carrots, potatoes and onions — will last most of the winter if stored properly. In the past, the others would have been canned, dried, pickled or made into jam. Today, much produce is imported from places like California during the coldest months.

But today there is still a good selection of fresh vegetables to be had at the Barrie Farmers Market. Bushel baskets of squash, cabbage and kohlrabi sit on the floor in front of onions, kale and onions. As I look at the giant buttercup squash on the table, I can’t help but think what a terrific curried squash soup could be made from its deep orangey flesh, and I know exactly which rustic, delicious potato and garlic bread would be perfect to accompany it.

We pass by John Williams’ booth a few times, each time hoping to get a chance to say hello, but John is doing a brisk business selling bags of purple, yellow and white heirloom carrots and his ever-popular maple syrup. My son and I visited John in mid-autumn at his Wyebridge, Ontario farm and sugar bush operation and got a fabulous tour.

John tells me it has been extra busy today. He has his weekly regulars, but a lot of folks are starting to stock up their pantries for upcoming holiday meals.

Plenty to taste

As a lone guitarist strums a selection of Christmas carols with some Johnny Cash thrown in, we pass through ever-changing aroma zones as we meander through the stalls — honey, Indian food, kettle cooked popcorn, candles, sausage meats and maple syrup. Some of the good smells stop us right in our tracks — what is that? The vendors are quick to offer a sample of Ukrainian perogies, mushroom fettuccine, handmade chocolates. Of course, that’s how sales are made — not by the brain but by the tummy!

“Hey there, Chef Mario!” I have worked alongside Mario before and I know that he’s the genuine article — a very friendly, knowledgeable and skilled Italian chef. Mario has carved out a nice little personal chef business for himself and also sells his delightful handmade creations at the Barrie Farmers Market. Look at that focaccia bread!

Nearby I see Bob of Bob’s Good Eats, creator of shortbread cookies extraordinaire, decked out in a Santa hat, manning his table of cookies, fresh cornbread, stuffing and muesli.

Since 1846 the Barrie Farmers Market has been going strong at the corner of Mulcaster and Collier Streets in the downtown neighbourhood. You can visit any Saturday morning between 8 a.m. and noon. You will find the vendors outdoors from May until October, and indoors after that.

Bring a shopping bag, some cash and some room in your stomach for sampling the goodies!

Mary Harris

Mary Harris is a professional chef and food writer who was born in Scotland but has lived most of her life in Canada. Married with 5 children, she is passionate about good food, local and organic farming and gardening, loves travel, camping, genealogy and a pint of cider.

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