I love markets. Inexplicably so and completely. When I visit a new city, forget monuments and museums: I carry a list of all the must-see markets. (Just ask Sameer, who saw me squeal with glee each time we found a new one in Barcelona, and who – accidentally – ended up buying me a kilo of figs from one of those markets. That’s a lot of figs.)
Of any market, though, I best-love my home market, and not just out of bias. May through October, every Tuesday, at the south edge of Cabbagetown in Riverdale Park West, vendors set up stalls. Riverdale Market is amazing for so many reasons. It’s a producer-only market. All vendors have to grow/raise or make their goods: there are no “farmers” who buy from large vendors and resell at a premium. Growers must follow [near or beyond]organic or wild/foraged and sustainable practices. I always encounter a happy mix of single-product vendors (the mushroom man, sprout growers, honey seller) and full-range farms with a variety of produce.
More importantly, at Riverdale I stock up on the best pickles ever. On crisp October days, I drink a steamy paper-cupful of just-ground cacao. Angelos sells my very favourite kefalograviera cheese and olive oil that tastes like home. Yesterday evening I was gleeful to find the season’s very first coronation grapes, and chatted with their farmer about how he cares for his vines.
Apart from production standards and yummy finds, the market just has a spirit of camaraderie and love of good food that’s infectious. Prices are reasonable, produce is handled with care, the old man selling beets always sneaks me an extra “for good measure”. In exchange for a crisp $20 bill each week, I walk home feeling positively abundant. Last night I scooped up everything pictured: a bag of pear tomatoes and striped baby heirlooms, two pounds of lacinato kale, a box of grapes, 14 peaches, six purple beets, a glut of summer squash and head of garlic – all organically grown, put in my hands by their growers, driven in from a few kilometres away.
We so often focus on the many costs and externalities of cheap food. Groundbreaking studies tell us organic isn’t any healthier than conventionally-grown produce. We spend on average only 10 percent of our incomes on what we eat as we bemoan rising food costs. I’m guilty of this over-analyzing, this urge to make my food functional. But really – I only need as antidote one glorious bite of a fleshy, warm-from-the-vine heirloom tomato in mid-August; the ritual of roasted sweet potatoes through Ontario’s long winter; June’s first snappy green beans. Beautiful food, food that’s grown with love, is best.