By: Lynn Ogryzlo

In Italy, my grandmother used to sell the hair from her hairbrush to the wigmaker at the farmers’ market. This earned her just enough money for sewing needles. She told stories of a group of vendors who traveled from village to village, each on a different day offering a variety of goods available in department stores today.

Every Tuesday the mobile market would come to her village, to Castropignano and that was the day they could buy shoes, dishes, cheese, vegetables, bread and yes, even wigs. The European travelling markets of the early 1900’s seem very different from the modern markets we see in Niagara today.

In Niagara, there’s nothing better than roaming through the stalls at the open markets where farmers and local producers gather to sell produce and products. The fresh vegetables piled high are tempting, as are the baskets of fruit in large and small quantities. They’re available for such a short period of time we simply want to devour them all while they’re available. In between the fresh produce stands are a few butchers, cheese mongers and other specialty producers offering unique food items not found in traditional supermarkets. There’s usually a baker offering fresh bread, an artisan selling sausages, and food vendors offering a snack for all that hard work of walking, socializing and buying.

Like the Italian markets, Niagara’s markets have changed to reflect the way we eat and shop. Take for example the Supper Market in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s all about restaurant vendors making hot dishes ready for people to eat at picnic tables. It’s a place where real community socializing takes place over some pretty great food and yes, even some darn good beer and wine to wash it down with.

Coming full circle, Niagara now has a mobile market. Former farmer, Tracy Jennings just purchased a new mini van. She plans to load it with vegetables and travel the region making regular stops at apartment buildings and senior centres. “I saw this guy with a rickety van selling produce out of the back of it in Barbados. I thought, I can do that. And I can do it even better than he’s doing!” Starting June 1st look for Tracy’s van, called The Veggie Vagabond roaming the streets of St. Catharines, Thorold, Niagara Falls and Welland.

There are also different types of fresh produce markets. Farmers’ markets are traditionally in the centre of town and are great community gathering places. On-farm markets offer rural farm experiences like harvest festivals and on-farm bakeries where you can get the best pies, butter tarts and other farm-baked goodness. Fresh produce markets are scattered throughout communities offering the consistency of fresh produce year round.

If you want to make the best of the flavours and freshness of Niagara this year, here are a few spots you won’t want to miss.

I’ve always said we Niagarian’s have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to the bounty of the earth. While the rest of Ontario buys their fruit and vegetables from grocery stores and specialty food shops, in Niagara we have the privilege of growing it and buying it all right here. You can’t get any closer to freshness and flavour unless you grew it yourself.

FARMERS’ MARKETS
Don’t be surprised if you see a chef or two wandering the market squeezing the melons or smelling the leeks in search of the freshest and best produce they can find – it’s the way it is at farmers’ markets.

Port Colborne Market.
Open Friday mornings from 6 am to 1 pm all year. It’s located in the municipal parking lot across from City Hall. Here you’ll find more than 60 vendors offering a full variety of fresh and home made produce.

St. Catharines Market.
Open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday all year from 5:30 am to 6 pm, although Saturday is the largest and busiest day. Located in Market Square in the downtown core, it’s home to over 29 vendors offering fruits and vegetables in season along with even more local products such as preserves, honey, meat, fish, flowers, bread, pies and specialty cakes.

Welland Farmers Market.
Open on Wednesday and Saturdays from 6 am to 12 noon all year. In the heart of downtown Welland between Division and Young streets. It’s easy to work up an appetite walking through two buildings that house about 70 market vendors both indoors and out. Farmers’ Market Café offers delicious breakfasts on market days.

SEASONAL ON-FARM MARKETS
Don’t expect to find a full service market on each farm. Here farmers offer what they are growing on their estates and rarely anything else. You won’t be able to resist the temptation to sink your teeth into freshly harvested tree ripened fruit picked just minutes before your arrival.

J. D. Whitty Farm opens to the public at the beginning June with the first harvest of juicy ripe strawberries and continues all season long with raspberries, sweet cherries, peaches, nectarines, melons, peppers, sweet corn, gooseberries and lots more. Located on the corner of Seventh Street and Fourth Avenue on the west edge of St. Catharines.

Nokara Farm. Don’t be fooled by the size of this little market. Inside are the best farm fresh pies. On the shelves are jars of preserves both savoury and sweet and under the tent is a broad range of fresh produce most likely picked that morning. Perfect place to take advantage of the seasons harvests.

Inn The Pines Market. On Seventh Street Louth in St. Catharines. Owner Cheryl and Barnie Barnes grow most of the vegetables they sell in their little market stand. The stand is surrounded with large gardens and in the pens they raise heritage breeds of pigs and sell some pretty amazing pork products. What they don’t grow, they travel the region buying up the very best produce from farmers to sell at their little market stand.

The Fruit Shack Inside the barn on Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake is everything owner Sue Pohorly feels is good enough to sell on her farm. In the packing barn turned retail store there are freezers full of Mennonite meats from the St. Jacobs area, a centre stand holds produce from the farm like just picked asparagus and tree-ripened peaches. Niagara’s best butter tarts come out of the on-site bakery.

YEAR ROUND PRODUCE MARKETS
The best part of fresh produce stores is that they offer a consistently wide variety of fresh produce; local when in season and imported the rest of the year. They’re also known for their on-site bakeries offering farm and country goodness.

Harvest Barn Market. Two locations to choose from, Niagara-on-the-Lake on the corner of East-West Line and Fourth Avenue, on the corner of First Street Louth, St. Catharines. In-house bakery and healthy “snack bar” that specializes in unique pizza, fresh sandwiches, nuts, dried fruit and the most mouthwatering salad bar west of the river.

Wright Brothers Produce is on Ontario Street in St. Catharines near Linwell Road. A great selection of vegetables and fruit and in the fall, the aromas coming off the bushels of fresh apples is intoxicating.

Grand Oak Culinary Market is on 4600 Victoria Avenue in Vineland near the QEW highway. Inside the market is a wide variety of fresh produce and local food products. Chef owned and operated bakery offering fresh bread, pies and baked goods as well as full gourmet meals to go.

For a full listing of Farmers’ Markets throughout Niagara including lunch and supper markets, go to www.lynnogryzlo.com.

Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to REV Publications. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.