What’s happening at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market? Well, a lot when it comes to food.
Markets, including the food component, we should remember, represent entrepreneurs, both from a farming perspective and prepared food from vendors. That’s easy to forget: with over 200 entrepreneurs at the Market, an important grouping of them provide visitors with some amazing foods.
“We have about 20 food vendors here, everything from tamales to fritters, making food by hand on-site, according to Leanne McGray, Director of Market Operations at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market.
The range is really quite extraordinary and matches what you might find in a culturally diverse city: Jamaican and Haitian cuisines, for instance”, and Vietnamese and other Asian food vendors as well. Of course, those dishes are right alongside more traditional “Waterloo County Fare,” such as cabbage rolls and pierogies. “We have a Ukrainian goulash vendor too, that is unique and authentic,” McGray says.
Authentic and Healthy
It’s usually family-driven too, with a grandmother or an aunt coming to the both to lend their expertise and “old-world” experience to the process. Two sisters have been running the fritter booth for nearly three decades. “They are a mainstay at the market, a huge draw.” Again, remembering the entrepreneurial aspect, McGray points out that the Fritter Co., a family-run business, employs several people all year-round.
The education level of the public and shoppers when it comes to food has resulted in farmers’ market growth in general; it has been the case for nearly a decade now where people want fresh food and they want to know where it comes from. McGray says this is true from her observations at the market. In addition, allergy awareness and dietary needs – and requests – have grown significantly, from low carb and gluten-free to plant-based and vegan choices. Food businesses have adapted, including those at St. Jacobs. “There are still many standard choices, but we’re also seeing a lot of people looking for healthier options.”
Connectivity Rules at the Market
If you want to bring carbon footprint into the equation, it’s a two-fold issue. Local farmers from Waterloo Region and just outside of it are trucking their produce much shorter miles; in addition, the Market’s food vendors are simply walking outside first thing in the morning, or down two tents to their neighbour vegetable farmer, and buying the ingredients they need to prepare their food. It’s good for the environment, commerce and food quality and fresh flavour. “Our butchers and meat vendors are also selling their local products to the vendors that they share market space with,” she says.
On the Horizon
One way the Market is planning to grow is through events and engagement with the Market stakeholders, according to McGray.
“We are working on interactive programming at the Market which will include demonstrations with food and cooking. What, for instance, is celeriac and how do I cook it?” McGray says. Walking tours are being created at the Market: think “Butter Tart Trail,” she adds. “If you have a sweet tooth, there will be a sweet-tooth map so you can navigate your way around the Market and find all the shops you’d want.”
A Holiday Christmas Market is scheduled to be launched in mid-December. “We have some specialty vendors planned and are planning an outdoor component with special seasonal entertainment, stage demonstrations, and a rolling, remote kitchen that can be moved to different locations both inside and outside the Market.” McGray adds that the Market will be partnering with some new businesses launching across the street at the Outlet Mall. “It will result in some additional interactive events here at the Market.” The Holiday Market happens Thursday, December 12 and Saturday, December, 14.
There’s a lot of value-added to visiting the Market already: it’s fun and delicious and it puts you in touch with the producers and food businesses, most of whom are from this community. Now, says McGray, there will be even more.
“It’s a unique environment and one that is very special all year-round.”