Toronto Market profile-Dufferin Grove Farmers Market

I had the pleasure of visiting our food community in Toronto in mid April, courtesy of the Greenbelt Farmers Market Network and its organizers, Anne Freeman and Sara Udow. Before I left, I was able to visit Anne’s well established, highly respected market (many people I chatted with throughout the city mentioned this market to me when they found I work with public markets), the Dufferin Grove Farmers Market.
The Dufferin Grove Park is a study in itself, and deserves to be used as an example by other neighborhoods that want to be a bridge for their residents and to use their space to inspire and share. I had the great fortune (thanks to Anne Freeman) to sit down with Jutta Mason who has dedicated much of her time to the evolution of this park and its activities. I could say more nice things about Jutta, how market organizers should be so lucky to have a partner like her, but she’d just find this lionizing of her quite odd probably.
But do take some time to see the wealth of resources and activities this informal group has brought to their area:
Friends of DGP

The market itself runs year-round (take that, northerners that say it can’t be done!) and has focused on organic producers, but does have farmers that represent non-organic farming as well. A good mix of small and large vendors. The wild rice vendor is a good example of the mix of season and scale of the vendors- he was sold out for the year after I bought some of his rice and would be back to his regular work until he harvested rice next year. (He told me to throw some of his rice into the swamps down in New Orleans- I might take that idea for an old creek bed on my family property…)
In any case, this is a fantastic Thursday evening farmers market that has been around for a decade already and will be there for future generations….

Black Duck Wild Rice-Toronto

Toronto CA community park


The community garden at the Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto. Sits right next to the weekly farmers market...


Folks sitting on the grass in Dufferin Grove Park next to the weekly farmers market.


Anne Freeman, the manager of the Dufferin Grove Park Farmers Market is seen here (in pink shirt) talking with one of her vendors in the Zamboni storage area (it is Canada after all!) where the market camps out in the winter and then spills out into the walkway for the rest of the year.


The market sets up this cleaning station for shoppers to add condiments and to clean their plates. A very attractive set up..


The market sale board for the park folks who make bread and food in their bake ovens and have a Friday night dinner as well.

Toronto trip #1

I just returned from giving the keynote at the Greenbelt Farmers Market Network Market Manager Day in Toronto Canada. I know, how lucky does one person get…

Spending four days with my peers to the north taught me a great many things and confirmed some others. I will post a few different stories and highlights about the trip this week, but let me start today with some generalities:
1. The deep awareness of the importance of civil society in Canada serves the market and food system well. Those working on these issues know that in order for change to be calibrated correctly, it is important for citizens to constantly act as “civic agents.” They are not afraid to be oppositional when needed (when dealing with government especially) but also understand that they need to “assist each department in achieving their particular mandate” as eloquently stated by Barbara Emanuel, Manager of the Food Strategy at Toronto Public Health. (That civic agent term was defined again for me in an article I read on the way home in the latest Democracy: A Journal of Ideas in a series called Reclaiming Citizenship which I heartily recommend as well.)
2. Every food organizer I met on that trip understood that the farmer/producer needs to remain as the central partner in all projects. In other words, I didn’t come across lip service to the needs of the farmer. That lip service is usually found in code words or phrases such as “scaling up” or “elitist farmers markets” in food system conversations that I find myself in across North America and in other Western countries. Those code words tell you that the sayers are content to ignore the facts of the relative age and sophistication of our work and the intractable nature of the industrial food system so far.
I instead heard complex, thoughtful responses to the needs of farmers while balancing health equity needs for shoppers. I wish I found that more often in my travels.
3. A set of organizers who recognize that they all must remain at the same table. More specifically, that they all sit at the table but may not have the same menu of choices in front of them. Debbie Fields, the extraordinary Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto said as much to me about her colleague Anne Freeman (my host, the organizer of the Greenbelt Farmers Market Network and founder of the Dufferin Grove Farmers Market) “Anne and I understand that we have the same goal but have to use different avenues to get there.”
4. Internal evaluation is becoming known and necessary. I can’t wait to tell you more about the dynamic presentation (and later meeting of the mind) I experienced through Helene St. Jacques, a Food Share board member and marketing research professional showing results of the research done on behalf of the markets. . And, I look forward to doing some of that US/Canada evaluation sharing with Helene as well.

So much to tell you….