Special Report: Farmers Market

Reinventing the Farmers' Market

Improve it, expand it, take it to the streets and surrounding neighbourhoods, but please don't yuppify it or ruin it.

By Jason Leach
Published April 10, 2007

I'm excited yet a little disturbed at what I'm reading regarding the redevelopment of the Hamilton's Farmers Market.

Physical renovations, removing traffic lanes on York and adding outside stalls and café/seating areas are all vital in the improvement of the market.

I can even live with the suggestion that a better mix of vendors could be developed, although I enjoy having a good selection of fruits and veggies as opposed to a billion types of chips and pop like you'll find at a grocery store.

Hamilton Farmers' Market (Image Credit: Joe Ceretti)
Hamilton Farmers' Market (Image Credit: Joe Ceretti)

However, I can't help but get nervous when a Toronto consultant says that we need to attract a more affluent audience by developing a hip, urban shopping experience.

Obviously we want the market to attract people from all over Hamilton and the surrounding area, but I hope to hear more mention in the future about adding more farmers, not prepared food stalls.

Extending the hours, programming and overall atmosphere would be welcome, but I like the fact that it's down to earth and comfortable.

Turn it into a Whole Foods and you'll lose a huge segment of the customer base. There's a reason the market has survived and still does decent business on a rotten highway stretch of York in the bottom of a parking garage.

It would be nice for the city to look at market redevelopment in the greater context of developing a 'market district'.

Streetscaping and wide sidewalks along Vine, McNab and Park could be developed and the local Asian grocers and markets encouraged to spill out onto the street.

Plant trees and turn the area into a vibrant district where one can spend a big hunk of time on a Saturday sitting, shopping, eating, drinking coffee and enjoying a vibrant urban area similar to the Byward Market area in Ottawa.

Previously we published a vision for a 'market district'. The city's urban design department even got into the act with a vision of what could be developed in this area:

There's no reason to hide this gem of a destination in our city. Improve it, expand it, take it to the streets and surrounding neighbourhoods, but please don't yuppify it or ruin it.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By Ronald Templ (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2007 at 15:27:44

I remember when the Hamilton Farmers Market was a "FARMERS" market. Before the days of ugly urban sprawl and when people like Sheila Zacks,former Mayor Bill Powell,visionaries like Harry Greenwood, Tom Beckett,Herman Turkstra and many others who fought to save our open market and our downtown culture and character. These were the people who fought the rise of red bricks and tried to Save Our Square. Are they still around to pick up the cudgel and show this city the way.

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By Concerned (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2007 at 20:28:40

I'd like to know why taxpayers are subsidizing commercial space for a bunch of Toronto Food Terminal Hucksters. I'm all for helping the real farmers but the overwhelming majority of these stall holders are simply distributors like a grocery store. The only difference, grocery stores pay their own way and these people ride the public purse. Let's have a real FARMER'S MARKET maybe in Downtown Binbrook, Ancaster, Waterdown with real farmers and communities with strong agricultural pasts!!

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By gary buttrum (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 05:00:46

i appreciate your concern for us farmers, Concerned, but i wonder where you get your information from. have you been to waterdown lately? do you know hamilton's farming history? do you know how much rent the "Toronto Food Terminal hucksters" pay? do you understand how incredibly difficult it is for a "real farmer" to make a living selling retail? i do. my family has been farming, and selling on markets in hamilton for seven generations. who do you think these so called hucksters buy from in toronto? it's all the farmers who are trying to make a living as well. i got news for all you die hard naive romantics out there longing for the simpler times of days gone by. take a look around, the economics of farming have changed. peoples eating habits have changed. the city is 10 times the area it was when my grandfather was plowing with a horse in west hamilton in the 1950's. it makes no sense for everyone to drive downtown to buy a few bags of vegetables and people wont. all the "real farmers" have moved on with the times and sell wholesale. My family, the Williams, and several others are the exception that proves the rule. we have been able to carve out very small and specific niche markets in order to survive in a vastly different socio-economic system than even 30 years ago.
the solution to the market problem is to support local businesses who support local farmers. the idea of a farmer standing longer hours on the market to sell less to fewer people is absurd. hamilton does need satellite markets in ancaster, waterdown, and such communities, but not to replace the downtown market but to compliment it. waterdown did have a market years ago and i had a stand on it. the market failed; not enough people. it was a lot easier for me to sell to a wholesaler. i could go on for hours about this as it is something i have a great deal of experience with and care a great deal about.
unfortunately, Concerned, this is a large and complex problem that wont be solved by empty platitudes spouted by ignorant armchair critics who dream of picture perfect agrarian past but wont pay a nickel more to support it. nor, unfortunately will it be solved with a few million dollars from the city to fix a problem it partially created 20-odd years ago.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 07:29:09

Great insight Gary. Thanks so much for posting. The hard work you and your fellow farmers do is very appreciated at our dinner table. I think you touched on something very important when stating the real goal should be having local businesses who support local farmers. In the market and throughout the city. It's one of the reasons I enjoy Pepper jack Cafe and Acclamation Bar and Grill. Do you think there is any chance of getting more farmers' product into our market? Whether it's through a stall of their own, or selling their goods in a local businessperson's stall? Also, do you like what is being presented in the consultant's report?
I see the need to fix the problems of the market, but I certainly don't want to harm or lose the few farmers who are there.

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By Concerned (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 10:37:18

Gary, I didn't intend to disrespect you or the history of the Hamilton Farmers Market. I am a beef cattle farmer in one of the so-called "suburbs" as Jason refers to them. My frustration is with the City who have simply been funnelling my property taxes downtown rather giving us the farmers the support we deserve in these challenging times. My taxes go up and I struggle to make ends meet.

My main point is, why would someone travel downtown to buy food from the "farmer's market" when they can buy the same product at their local grocery store which came from the same distributor? Sorry, I can't afford to get downtown to support the market. My apologies once again.

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By Observant (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 17:08:11

I have enjoyed reading the article but when I came to reading the comments names from the past just jumped out at me, Sheila Zack, Harry Greenwood, Tom Becket and Herman Turkstra boy I may be dating myself but they certainly were movers and shakers in this city. Wher are they now, does anyone know? I would be interested.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 12, 2007 at 17:40:03

I met Herman on James North a couple weeks back. Nice guy. A friend introduced me. He is completely on-board for streetcars running along James and King. Still sharp as a whip.

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By gary buttrum (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2007 at 01:13:38

and i, as well, apologize, Concerned. i get a little excited when it comes to this issue. i agree that there is no reason to have one truck driving past all the people and a hundred cars following to pick up what the truck dropped off. as far as the city goes, i think the most important thing they can do for farmers is to impose a long term fixed urban boundary. this would help by easing the pressure development places on rural farmers. perhaps then someone like myself, in his early thirties might actually be able to afford the mortgage on a farm.
i would love to look into the actual numbers, Concerned, and because i just don't know, i am not criticizing your statement, but i wonder if your comment about your tax dollars flowing to downtown is accurate. and i only state this because it is the wide held belief in the core that all the tax money is going to the new suburban areas. i agree that some very high profile cash is allotted to the downtown making it easy to assume that the net balance is a little off, but seeing the state of the core compared to westdale or meadowlands or the new park facilities in waterdown i wonder what the real figures are. again i take very visible examples and am extrapolating perhaps unwisely. i really don't know.
i do know however that it is very easy for the city to maintain its present crash course to insolvency by keeping the downtown and the suburbs and the rural areas at each others' throats. this is i think largely based on misinformation about what is really going on in these very different areas.
again, all this is very complicated and relies on the unravelling of so many different elements to even get a glimpse of how we might be able to solve this problem.
back to the market, i think that as with most goods or services, it is generally better to support local businesses who are flexible enough to respond to what we as the consumer wants, be it in season local produce, union made goods or more environmentally responsible products or services. i like living and working in hamilton and thus if i support my neighbours who also live and work in the city we can all do a little better. the sad part is we all generally want the same things out of life but get stuck behind false or misleading rhetoric. sometimes even the big bad developer is just a guy trying to support a family.
to address jason's questions, people sell what people buy, so the more people ask for local produce and are willing to perhaps pay a premium for it the more stalls will sell it. that is the beauty of small business. it is easier to talk to the people who actually make the decisions that affect the products they carry. also, as a consumer, become informed about locally grown food. eat in season, understand when local produce is available and take advantage of it. right now ontario greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers are available, mushrooms are always in season, storage onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and apples to name a few are all still available. look at the signs, and don't assume because local strawberries are in season that the ones at a grocery store are not american. a continental food system has introduced some very odd overlaps of seasons. and if i can be a little self serving here, if local produce is not available, consider purchasing imported "staples" like lettuce or citrus fruit from someone who does grow their own or who regularly has local food. this will keep the vendor or farmer in business until the next summer.
i have not read the consultants report through so i can only comment on what i have heard second hand but i think the most important thing to come out of it so far is the idea of a board of directors that operates independently of the city and the stallholders to guide the market with larger longer term issues. as for gentrifying the market, i don't think they could if they wanted to, yet. the report probably bases these ideas on other markets who have more established middle class downtown populations. hamilton just isn't there yet. the market has mearly shifted to serve those who are still shopping downtown, which has increasingly been new canadians.
and i will end with this, if you want to save the market, save the downtown by bringing the next generation of people to live here back to the core. support residential redevelopment of the core!
thanks for reading

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2007 at 10:34:01

gary buttrum wrote: "as far as the city goes, i think the most important thing they can do for farmers is to impose a long term fixed urban boundary."

Hi Gary,

I really think what you wrote indicates a natural 'alliance', if you will, between urban and rural advocates. The biggest threat against both is suburban sprawl, which hollows out city centres and destroys rural communities.

Property speculation drives up the price of land and the medium-low density development of sprawl means suddenly a lot more people are on the roads driving everywhere and forcing expensive road widening.

Community businesses can't compete with warehouse-sized retail outlets and farmers can't compete with property developers.

In the meantime, real wealth is drained out of the city to pay for servicing the suburban expansion (since levies and property taxes aren't enough to pay for servicing sprawl, every new house built raises everyone else's taxes) and urban neighbourhoods fall into decay.

I tried to argue this with Glanbrook Councillor Dave Mitchell some time ago, but he was unresponsive. I wrote in part:

"It's unfortunate that you seem to be trying to reinforce an urban/rural dichotomy, when some of the biggest supporters of Hamilton's farming community can be found downtown."

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/505/

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By F.Walters (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2007 at 14:56:05

To Observant; I saw Harry Greenwood at the play Glorydays a few months ago. I worked at the Royal Connaught Hotel when he was called in to settle our strike. He was head of the Labour Council (I think) and he got us the best contract we had ever had.He was a smart guy, I can imagine him standing up for the city. I don't know any of the others except by name but if they were like Greenwood lets find them and bring them back.

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By grahamia (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2007 at 20:21:41

I buy at the Farmers Market, make the trip from Burlington once a week. This has been a change in shopping habits from the past 20 years of living here. But the Eat Local, Eat Organic and Slow Food movements have educated me and I have become a 'food activist' with as much of my family's food budget as I can. I try to get to know the Buttrums, Williams, Fleetwood farms (cider makers), Maria at the Fair Trade coffee stall, and others. I try to know them by name if I can. I go back to the same vendor for the same produce each week. I ask for local chicken, beef, cheese and eggs. I look for whatever vegetables from storage and buy them, even if it's not going to be as popular at home to have squash one more time! Some suggestions to make it likely there will be more shoppers like me: - have a market policy to clearly identity the growers from the resellers, so we can knowinglyi choose to buy from a grower - a name badge would be nice so we food activists can get to know you - enforce the rules for number of stalls a reseller can rent, under whatever name they go by (some have several stalls, under different names or no name at all) - growers could get simple standard labels for all displayed produce that shows LOCAL and/or ORGANIC. - don't go Toronto yuppy, gentrifying what is going to come crashing down. The Market is about local food security, not a 'food shopping experience', but do get good signage: clean, legible, and maybe the market could provide the sign blanks with a crisp identity graphic - growers could start investigating in four season harvest methods using passive solar greenhouses, high tunnels, etc and bring in more produce, or buy it from local producers who do grow for the off season.

I look forward to chatting next time you're on the stand, Gary B!

Ian Sustainable Burlington Citizens Group www.burlingtoncan.relocalize.net

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By adrian (registered) | Posted April 14, 2007 at 21:47:24

Gary wrote, "the sad part is we all generally want the same things out of life but get stuck behind false or misleading rhetoric. sometimes even the big bad developer is just a guy trying to support a family."

Wise words in an already fascinating discussion.

I was at the market today. I bought so much food I could barely carry it home (I need to get one of those grocery carts that elderly ladies are so fond of). Some of the things I love about the market:

  • Quality of ingredients. There's an Italian woman with a great cheese and olives and antipasto stand on the top level. Quite a small stand, right in the center of the top level, with fantastic food. I bought a jar of marinated roasted red peppers from her a few weeks ago. They were phenomenal and I used them in all sorts of things.

A few days later I was having people over for dinner and I wanted to use roasted red peppers in the meal I was preparing, but I only had a quarter of a jar left. The market was closed so I popped over to Fortino's and grabbed a jar of roasted red peppers off the shelf there (along with cat litter, cereal, yogurt and other non-market items). Two jars of roasted red peppers - two different kinds - but what could really be the difference?

The difference, actually, was unbelievable. The ones from Fortino's (President's Choice brand) were thin, bitter and tasteless. Compared to the thick, juicy, sweetly flavourful roasted red peppers I had become accustomed to...well, there WAS no comparison!

  • Enjoying the company of my fellow citizens. Markets build community. That's also one of the reasons I like public health care, besides the fact it's affordable: it puts us all in the same boat. I enjoy living shoulder-to-shoulder with all my fellow citizens.

  • Purchasing from people who actually have the time and the inclination to make conversation, and who remember me. I got in a 1/2 hour conversation with a flower seller the other day. Today, when I was trying to buy some more of this incredible pesto that the Italian woman I mentioned above carries, I couldn't remember which container I had purchased before. She said, "Oh, it was this one," and plunked it down in front of me. I bought the first jar two or three weeks ago! How on earth could she remember that?

As far as improving the market is concerned. I think all that we need is to make decisions that allow people to do what they want to do. I'm often amazed at how difficult we seem to think it is to have a proper market. The markets in Iraq are, apparently, bustling, and this is in spite of constant threat of car bombs and snipers. Doesn't that mean that all we really need to have a good market is to make the space for it?

Hamilton's market is already excellent and if permission is given to start expanding it onto the street and elsewhere, well, let the marketeers do the rest.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 14, 2007 at 22:26:23

you're right on Ade. My complaints about the market have always been about the space...the underground garage and no street presence. I hope they take a lane away on York and widen the sidewalks for outdoor stalls. I've never even had the thought that something needed to be done about the product for sale in the market. I love it. If it becomes a 'prepared foods' and 'yuppie' place I'm outta there.

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By food (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2009 at 02:12:44

Farmer's market is a place where the farmers selling their products at the sufficient benefit,Hamilton farmer's market is the one of known example. It provides the better customer satisfaction by providing healthy & fresh food to the customers. It also provide financial benefits to the farmers.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 23, 2009 at 13:05:45

What they need to do is keep it open 6 days a week.

The idea that they're really farmers' stalls is sort of false. Sometimes the produce is second rate, and the vendors are just retailers for the farmer/food industry, just like a supermarket.

It's not the original farmers' market where the farmers come into the city once a week with their wagons full of squash and tomatoes. If I can buy raspberries in February, then what farmer did they come from?

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 23, 2009 at 13:06:03

What they need to do is keep it open 6 days a week.

The idea that they're really farmers' stalls is sort of false. Sometimes the produce is second rate, and the vendors are just retailers for the farmer/food industry, just like a supermarket.

It's not the original farmers' market where the farmers come into the city once a week with their wagons full of squash and tomatoes. If I can buy raspberries in February, then what farmer did they come from?

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