I am very grateful for this opportunity to share the news that the Tuesday market on the lawn of SickKids is reopening once more. You will see us every Tuesday from 9 am – 2 pm, starting on May 30th and going all the way to October 31!

Part of the fun of being the Market Manager is learning the stories of all the farmers and vendors we have. The community of a market decides which vendors get supported and the manager helps that community by telling them the stories of the vendors. I get boggled by all the stories I need to tell sometimes, in a good way 😊.

The SickKids Farmers Market is every Tuesday, 9am-2pm, May 30 – Oct 31, front lawn 555 University Ave, right near many UHN sites like Toronto General, Princess Margaret, Toronto Rehab and more

When I was visiting Thames River Melons farm a few years back I was politely shown one area after another to see the high standards these farmers set for themselves. Each field and pasture looked pristine, every farm practice was explained to me from an environmental perspective because the farm is as concerned with being good stewards as they can be, and as impressed as I was, the picture that stays with me is the strutting chickens in the corn. A few huge hens were out wandering away from their coop that day, clearly judging me with their beady little eyes. My host, farmer Rob, said something about the kid who was raising the chickens and better fences, but you could see he was entertained too. Those were happy and VERY healthy chickens.

Rob and Maria run their farm in Innisfil alongside relatives who also farm there, but in different ways. It’s a complex dance to run a farm according to your conscience beside siblings or neighbours with even slightly different ideas, but so many of our farms manage that dance. Many of the farms around Thames River Melons had moved to what was a more profitable model of big fields dedicated to single crops. Rob and Maria have worked to rotate their fields as possible. This keeps their soils healthier and the amount of chemicals lower but requires more hands-on field work, which is the most expensive input in farming. Animal inputs (manure!) are an important aspect of well rounded farming instead of chemical fertilizers so energy and space have to be given over to the composting and redistribution of manure, costing the farmer more again but making the whole farm a more environmentally friendly one. I’m so proud to be able to have them at the market. 

SunRay Orchards is another farm that’s returning from the “before times” of the pre-pandemic market. Larry and Tammy Short and allllll their red headed kids are brilliant farmers. There’s beautiful orchards, but also a greenhouse on the farm dedicated to growing an old strain of very sweet raspberries. Let me take you down a raspberry road for a minute! We’re all used to the modern grocery store version now, but they are to raspberries as pencil erasers are to marshmallows. Sweet little raspberries fall off the pip when ripe and crush under their own juicy weight when you try to transport them. The raspberries we buy in the grocery store are only available to us because they were specially developed to be firm enough to transport. The loss of taste and melt in your mouth texture is the price we pay. SunRay has a greenhouse full of those tasty juicy old raspberries! They bring them to market not because of the financial case that can be made but because they are delicious and loss of these old varieties is a loss to us all. 

A Farmers Market is where the idea of feeding each other everything healthy and only the finest is stored. Consumers can look into the face of the producer, and ask questions. The idea that all the popular markets in the city, Dufferin Grove, Brickworks, Wychwood and many others started with was about making really healthy organic food easily available. Organic to the people who started those markets meant not just pesticide free but that everyone who grew or handled the food made a living wage, and no part of production should be hidden. ‘Buy local’ meant to keep eyes on where and how food got made, to try to create a fairer food system.

In the Great Pause that we all shared recently, everything changed. Farmers markets and Grocery Stores got confused with each other, and now it’s hard to see the original intent. Markets are seen by a lot of people as spaces for entrepreneurs to tinker with a product before they go on Dragons Den. The deep wisdom of markets, that instant easy food takes from the environment and from the people involved while hiding the actual costs of production may not be as apparent. I learned working at markets that there’s no such thing as cheap food, someone pays the price somewhere, most often the people who can least afford it. The steepest price is to the environment, and then in loss of choice about where to work and what to eat for the people who work for our food. Healthy food takes people time, costs more money and builds healthy environments. Chasing cheap food builds only the need for more cheap food while it wrecks the people who eat it and the places it comes from. 

I suggest that we look now at how we are unpausing. When I feed the people that matter to me I want to feed them only the best, and I only want to eat with people who I trust to feed me the best that they can as well. Whenever talk turns to the cost of food these days, I find that a lot of us are afraid to ask for the best. Let’s not punish each other for asking for better things! Let’s insist on a food system that builds up a healthy environment. Let’s recognize the people who say we can’t afford that for what they are, ridiculous! We can’t afford anything less. Let’s not lose sight of what food is really about. I want what suffragist Helen Todd asked for in 1911 during the so-called shirtwaist uprisings — I must have bread but I must have roses too. I refuse to give in to scarcity mentality. Let’s not be afraid to ask for a spectacular future, full of both bread and roses. 

There’s so many more stories about farms and bakers… I hope you make it to a Tuesday market this summer and talk to the vendors and collect your own stories … plus bread, roses and raspberries of your dreams. We’ve missed our friends and being at the market, so it’s very good to be back! 

Cookie Roscoe

Market Manager for the SickKids Farmers Market