St. Marys Journal Argus
“People can expect to see some new faces, and some returning faces from years past as well.”
That was the prediction from St. Marys Farmers’ Market Association president Ann Slater, in advance of the opening of the outdoor event’s 22nd season, Saturday, May 17 on the Town of St. Marys-owned parking lot on Jones Street East between Wellington and Water Streets. The Farmers’ Market runs from 8 a.m. until noon, from now through the end of October, with a few cold-hardy vendors expected to stay on at the location until the end of November.
Regular patrons of the market will be disappointed to learn that, due to the effects of the harsh winter of 2014 on many of Ontario’s tender fruit trees, the Vandenberg family from Arkona will not expected to be back this year selling their home-grown fruits. And due to recovery from a health issue, Mary Szabo of “The Nutty Bakers” won’t be there on opening week offering her family-run business’s wide array of sweets and savoury delights.
But on the eve of the 2014 opening, Slater promised shoppers won’t be disappointed, saying “we’ve had a number of inquiries from potential new vendors — more than usual for this time of year, I would say — including a number of home bakers.”
Saturday morning, her predictions were borne out; the Wiebe family of the Fullarton area had baked goods on display; Cindy Taylor and her niece Breanna Reid smiled out of a tent with a beautiful display of Taylor's "The Kitchen Smidgens" line of baking and preserves; and the Quai du Vin winery of St. Thomas — taking advantage of a newly-implemented change in provincial rules regarding the sale of Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines — has included St. Marys among a line-up of farmers' markets in which it plans on setting up shop this summer.
Taylor is the sister of George Taylor, cheesemaker at the highly-regarded C'est Bon Cheese southwest of St. Marys. So, along with her culinary creations — including delicious made-from-scratch marshmallows (they have to be tasted to be believed!) — she and Reid are also selling the on-farm dairy plant's award-winning goat's-milk cheese.
Quai du Vin, meanwhile, decided to explore the farmers' market distribution route following a change in rules that was announced in November, 2013. Co-owner Rob Quai told the Journal Argus that the 24 year-old winery, which boasts 30 acres of vineyards near the Lake Erie shoreline and produces approximately 6,000 cases of wine annually, has until now distributed its products solely through its on-farm retail outlet and event centre. Distribution through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), he noted, has remained outside the range of options for the company due to the costs required for participation in that system.
With distribution through farmers' markets now available — with one major requirement that the wines must come to the market directly from the winery on the day of the market, without being warehouses anywhere in between — Quai says his winery decided to give it a try.
"We kind of identified this area of southwestern Ontario as kind of a little distribution hub," he said. For now, wines will be brought from St. Thomas every Saturday to markets in St. Thomas, London (Covent Garden Market), St. Marys and Stratford, with possible expansions into other nearby areas if sales are good.
"Surprisingly, a lot of people have heard about the change, with the wines being sold in the farmers' markets," Quai said on Saturday morning, standing beside the company's St. Marys Farmers' Market booth. "A lot of them are surprised, though, that we decided to come here (to St. Marys). But, so far, this has been a wonderful morning for us. It's remarkable how this market seems to have such a social feel to it."
Meanwhile, across the rest of the market, some familiar faces returned for another year. Among them was Slater, with her array of organic vegetables, the fresh-baked taste and aroma of baker Simon Fraser's "Breadtopia," and the authentic look and feel of the Smucker family's fresh greens and freshly-baked bread, sold from the back of a finely-crafted Amish buggy as the family's horse rests comfortably in the shade nearby, tied to a conveniently-located hitching post.
And returning after a few years’ absence was the Brady family of Smoky Hollow Farm. The family spent a few years living on Manitoulin Island helping operate a cooperatively-owned abattoir, but have now returned to their Dashwood home.
“I’m looking forward to seeing old customers, and I always enjoy the relationships that develop between the vendors,” Joan Brady told the Journal Argus earlier this week.
The Brady stall will once again offer breakfast sandwiches, with fresh greens and other produce to come as the weather warms.
“It’s been such a slow spring,” Brady noted. “But we’ll get the greenhouse up and running soon, and hopefully we’ll start seeing some greens and other things in a week or two.”