peppers farmers market A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Peppers at the St. Jacobs Farmers Market © apoolakese - Fotolia.com

Waking up early on a Saturday morning may not be what most people consider as the perfect start to the weekend, but there are benefits to being the early bird. In this case, the saying “the early bird catches the worm” really does imply a satisfied full belly, as those devoted to obtaining the freshest, local foods flock to farmers’ markets across the country as early as 7 am.

I, for one, have never been good at seizing the day when it comes to waking up early on the weekends (or really any day for that matter). During my time spent in Guelph completing my undergraduate degree, my roommates and I always said we were going to start going to the Guelph Farmers’ Market, open Saturdays from 7:00am to noon. Four years came and went and not once were we able to get our acts together in time to make it there. Upon moving to Waterloo to complete my graduate degree, I vowed to change my ways and make it to at least one of the region’s many markets (after all, I’m a grad student now, which means I’m mature right?).

It took a few months but I finally made my first visit to the Kitchener Market. Proud that I had finally met my goal, albeit a little late to the game at 10:30am, I eagerly entered into the hall. The smell of fresh fruit and vegetables, delicatessens and baked goods hit me like a brick wall, instantly making me crave everything I laid eyes on. It became clear that not having breakfast before arriving was a rookie mistake. Stomach grumbling, I promptly found myself a delicious apple strudel, freshly made smoothie, a sampling of cinnamon-sugar mini donuts and a package of locally-sourced pepperettes: because clearly these flavours all go together for a balanced meal.

By this point I had wandered around enough that I had a sense of what was available, who carried what and where the best prices were. This tip to “peruse” was given to me by the bearer of all knowledge: my mother, who also happened to be a seasoned veteran of farmers’ markets. In taking a bit of time to scout out the options, I wouldn’t jump the gun and buy everything in sight and instead get to think ahead and plan what culinary masterpieces I would create later with the ingredients I had yet to buy. Of course, this didn’t apply to my indulgences mentioned earlier. Those were perfectly fine.

So now, armed and ready with my plans to prepare a lovely dinner of pork tenderloin and Ontario-grown asparagus and carrots, I set out to find the vendors with the best prices, only to find out that the delicatessens had closed up shop for the day. My expression must have resembled that of a small child who had just dropped their ice cream, because a kind elderly couple smiled at me in sympathy and explained that many of the vendors close up as soon as the crowds die down. Slightly disheartened that I would have to change my dinner plans, I chalked it up to another rookie learning experience that I could apply to the next time. There would be a next time and I would get my pork tenderloin.

I was still able to get my asparagus and carrots as the fruit and vegetable vendors tend to stay longer. As an added bonus I was able to get a great last minute deal on blueberries from a man standing on a chair, promoting his product as if selling newspapers on a busy 1920's street corner.

With my bounty of fruits, vegetables and snacks I made my way home, quietly reflecting on my experience while happily munching on the four quarts of blueberries I had bought and dreaming of steamed vegetables for dinner.

Oh, and I did eventually get my pork tenderloin during a trip to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. I’m no Julia Child, so I will admit it could have turned out better…and certainly less burnt. But I will try again, ever fine-tuning my culinary skills until I am able to do local food the justice it deserves.

Tips from an Experienced Rookie

1.    Plan to go with friends. Making yourself accountable to each other will make it easier to get out of bed on those early mornings.

2.    Bring reusable bags, or better yet, a granny cart – no one will judge you!

3.    If you plan on going back to a vendor, ask what time they start to clean up so you don’t miss out.

4.    There are usually great deals towards closing time as vendors try to get rid of their stock so if you don’t care about getting first pick, keeping an eye out for these could get you more bang for your buck.

5.    Children should certainly experience the market as well, but in the big crowds you need to be extra vigilant about keeping an eye on them. Although I wouldn’t condone leashing children, establishing some sort of system with them will make it easier to stay together and safer in the event that you get separated.

6.    Have fun and be creative! Don’t be afraid to take a culinary adventure and try something new. Some of the best foods are hidden gems waiting just outside your comfort zone.

What are your top market tips?

If you want to have the farmers’ market experience, but aren’t sure where to find one in your area, check out these websites for a list of all of the markets in each province. British Columbia | Alberta | SaskatchewanManitoba | Ontario | Quebec | New Brunswick | Nova Scotia | Prince Edward Island | Newfoundland. In the territories? Check out the Whitehorse Fireweed Market and the Yellowknife Farmers' Market

Kristin is a masters student in Planning at the University of Waterloo, where she is focusing her studies on the interactions between people and wildlife. When not consumed by the ever-increasing thesis to-do list, Kristin enjoys spending time in the outdoors, attempting to decorate cakes like the pros, traveling to new places, and showering her cat with more affection than he probably needs.

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