If you walk through the front doors of University College on a Wednesday afternoon, you might be surprised by what you'll find on the other side. Tables overflow with fresh, organic produce: carrots, potatoes, sprouts, squash, cabbage, and garlic, not to mention all manner of jellies, jams, preserves, gourmet cheese, fresh baked bread, and Fair Trade Mexican chocolate.
The U of T Farmer’s Market started in October 2008, when a group of vendors were looking for a new outlet for their products. During the warmer months, it takes place in the Sir Daniel Wilson Quad behind University College, but after Thanksgiving, vendors can still be found inside the stone archways of the rotunda. The market takes place every Wednesday afternoon from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Mark Trealoute of Kawartha Ecological Growers has been selling produce at the market since its inception. “It was pretty easy to set up," he said. "We just asked for a venue and started coming. It’s a good way to reach people we would not have access to otherwise.”
Besides the bounty from his own farm, Grassroots Organics, Trealoute provides distribution for about 20 other farms from the Kawartha region, including everything from Amish cabbage growers to apiaries that make fresh honey. The market also doubles as the drop-off point for a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) project, which provides a basket of fresh goods to subscribers every two weeks.
Another vendor at the market is the St. John’s Bakery. In addition to making delicious, french-style artisan breads, the bakery acts as a place where people struggling with mental illness, addiction, or poverty can come to learn valuable skills while being nourished.
“We’re here mostly in a promotional capacity,” says Steve Ball, who volunteers for the bakery. “This market isn’t our biggest money-maker, but we find it helpful in terms of spreading the word and raising awareness of our program among students.”
One of the newer vendors to join up with the market is Choco Sol. This horizontal trading company has developed relationships with cocoa farmers in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico. The Fair Trade, organic cocoa is delivered to their Toronto facility where it is processed using largely renewable technology, including grinding machines that are pedal-powered.
“Commercial chocolate production can be pretty impersonal,” says Choco Sol employee Mathieu McFadden. “The advantage of a market like this is that it really allows us to connect with our customers; you’re talking to the person who actually made your chocolate. Our chocolate is not only food; it’s fuel for research into new ways of organizing, and it’s an invitation to learn more about where our produce comes from.”
Choco Sol’s wares were tempting enough for this reporter to purchase a few, along with some organic carrots for dinner. Despite the variety and quality of the food available, the farmer’s market remains a pretty well-kept secret on campus; most customers are university employees, rather than students who stop by between classes. Judging from the delicious sights and smells, however, this market won’t be a secret for long.