Summer Saturday mornings at Hanover’s farmers’ market are a sensory delight: the arresting aromas of fresh-baked goods, spicy West Indian prepared food and other culinary delights tantalize those browsing among the community of vendors; lively chatter accompanies the purchase by patrons of pastured meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, maple syrup, honey and jams and jellies; artfully displayed assortments of garden-fresh vegetables and herbs – radishes, greens, onions, basil and more – beckon to be purchased; and the soft voice of a minstrel accompanied by the dulcet tones of a six-string guitar enhance the warm and friendly ambiance.
Welcome to Eat Well Market, Hanover’s own farmers’ market located smack dab in the heart of this southern Ontario town, population 7,688, situated in Grey County’s bucolic countryside and on the banks of the meandering Saugeen River. One would be hard pressed to find a farmers’ market location more central and ideal than that of Hanover’s Heritage Square, located in the town’s core across from the public library and clock tower. It’s open-aired and spacious with an assortment of shade trees under which market goers can find relief from the summer heat, flower gardens that provide a blaze of colour throughout the market season, and walkways and gathering spots that can comfortably accommodate many vendors and shoppers. The market’s Main Street location and strategic signage on Hanover’s major thoroughfares ensure that the market is brought to the attention of passerby pedestrians and vehicles.
This is Eat Well Market’s third consecutive season in Heritage Square, and it’s increasing in both number of vendors and clientele. “Eat Well Market is growing this year and we’re excited to bring new vendors on board,” said Rosemary Crick, the market’s manager and co-founder. “As an official farmers’ market, over half of the vendors are food producers so we have a variety of opportunities new vendors can provide,” Crick added. By “official” Crick is referring to the Grey and Bruce County Health Unit and its accreditation of Eat Well Market according to established public health-related criteria.
Crick is proprietor of Crickhollow Gardens, a community shared agriculture (CSA) farm located near Neustadt. She is also a vendor at the Eat Well Market and sells a wide range of organically-grown vegetables, among other items. If Eat Well Market could be said to follow a “prime directive,” it would probably be its strong, enduring commitment to healthy eating with a preference for food grown organically or at least ecologically and sustainably. “As a market focused on local and organic foods, we are looking to bring in as many healthy food items as possible,” Crick said.
Vendor Mark Zettel, who farms near Chepstow and whose market wares include organically grown pastured beef, chicken, turkey and pork as well as fresh vegetables, also attests to the increase in patrons. One reason for the growth in numbers, he thinks, is a change in market days. For the first two years of Eat Well Market’s existence at Heritage Square, the market was open for business Friday afternoons. It’s now open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., from June 2 to October 27. “I think the change of weekday has really helped us,” Zettel said. “I’ve noticed a definite increase of people strolling through the market and buying,” he added.
Elizabeth Heimpel, of Elizabytes’ snacks, lunches, herbal teas and coffee, cited the sense of family that Crick and others have cultivated among vendors as another reason why new vendors are attracted to Eat Well. She said regular meetings where vendors share their vending experiences and sales challenges, evaluate the market’s progress, and plan for the future have created cohesion and closeness.
Eat Well Market enjoys the keen support of the Town of Hanover including the use of Heritage Square free of charge. According to Economic Development Manager April Marshall, the developmental trajectory of the market is very much in sync with the economic and cultural objectives of the town, which makes it a natural partner. Town Council even approved an upgrade of the electrical services in the square to better accommodate market vendors.
Marshall, who once started a farmers’ market herself, is intimately familiar with the time and effort it takes to build support for a market like Eat Well. “The first few years are the toughest,” she said. Much advertising and encouragement is needed to interest the public in the market to the point where they are ready to think beyond their weekly visits to a local grocery store and consider it a part of their regular shopping regimen, she added. “It’s really about changing the mindsets of people so they build [a visit to the farmers’ market] into their routines,” she continued, which she said can take years.
Over the last decade or so, new farmers’ markets have sprung up in many urban centres throughout Ontario as more and more people opt for other than only supermarket fare. The markets come in many shapes and sizes. In some ways the Eat Well Market is fairly typical, championing locally-grown and locally-prepared foods and offering eaters an opportunity to know where their food comes from, to the point of establishing a personal relationship with farmer vendors. And like a growing number of farmers’ markets, there’s a preference for organically grown meats, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products offered either as whole foods or ingredients in prepared foods.
In other ways, Eat Well Market is evolving as a market with a multi-dimensional character, wedding the promotion of healthy eating to an array of social, economic and cultural issues including community building, community sustainability, a celebration of culture, and a “launch pad” for local youth interested in developing entrepreneurial skills.
Economically, Marshall said, and as the market grows in numbers of vendors and shoppers, it is having a positive spin-off effect on surrounding businesses as more people are attracted to the downtown area. Farmers’ Market Ontario, a comprehensive online resource for farmers’ market managers, states that 55 percent of shoppers visit neighbouring businesses when they shop in urban-based farmers’ markets. Said Marshall, “Having a farmers’ market in our community has a great economic impact overall.” When you shop at a farmers’ market you are supporting the local economy and providing income for families in the Hanover community, she added.
Heritage Square is also “a public space that contributes to people’s health and happiness,” Marshall said. It’s only natural that a farmers’ market devoted to healthy eating would bolster the community’s overall wellbeing and be worthy of support for that purpose alone, she added.
Marshall also spoke of the market as a “cultural asset.” Farming, food preparation and eating, connecting with the people who grow food, arts and crafts, mingling and socializing, music – they are all vectors for making people feel that they belong,” Marshall says. They also help deepen Hanover’s sense of community and sense of itself, she added.
Global culture also finds a home among Eat Well Market’s family of vendors. Patricia Morgan, originally from Jamaica, sells traditional West Indian prepared foods at the market. A former restauranteur, she moved with her family from Orangeville last year and is now a regular vendor. Her food offerings, which include such dishes as fried plantain, callaloo (spicy greens), and stewed goat have proven popular. “I sold out last week, increased the amount of food this week, and sold out again!” she said, two weeks into the 2018 market season.
Last year Eat Well’s vendor community included a Syrian family who had recently come to Hanover as refugees. The traditional Syrian prepared foods they sold as snacks and lunch time fare also were popular with market-goers. The family’s move to Owen Sound later in the year has left local folk missing a little taste of the Middle East. European baked goods are also on offer at Eat Well.
Morgan said that a lot of the market’s clientele “are willing to trying new things and as long as you explain what they are eating, they will try it.” She said that openness to new food experiences, including food from far-away lands, adds to the market’s cultural vitality.
Another attribute of the market, perhaps unusual among farmers’ markets, is its commitment to assist local youth. Hanover is home to Launch Pad Youth Activity and Technology Centre, a town-supported facility serving youth, between the ages of 12 and 18, in the Grey and Bruce County region. It offers skills training to grow youth’s aspirations and help them set and achieve personal goals. This year the Launch Pad added entrepreneurialism to its skills development program, and on June 2, became a vendor at Eat Well Market.
Like many small Ontario towns, some Hanover youth face a range of social, economic and other challenges, among them poverty and substance abuse. The LaunchPad exists in part to address such challenges through its skills-based training programs, which have the supplementary effect of building self-esteem and self-confidence.
At Eat Well Market, youth will be selling items they have created themselves or as a group from the Launch Pad’s kitchen utilizing in-season fruits and vegetables. For example, 14-year-old Sage Martin has created a business called “The Cookie Crew” and is baking and selling cookies to his friends, family, and Ashanti’s Café in Hanover. Said Launch Pad’s Executive Director, Emily Morrison, by selling his baked goods at Eat Well Market, Sage is taking his business to another level.
Other items made in the Launch Pad kitchen include a BBQ sauce, the rights to which are owned by MacLean’s Ales Inc., an Hanover-based brewery, and strawberry jam.
The youth will oversee their own scheduling and make sure their products are ready to be sold every week. “Launch Pad will be their guide,” Morrison said, “but this is a youth initiative allowing them to create, sell, and keep their own profits.”
Added Morrison, “No matter how big or how small we start, youth participating in this initiative will be learning entrepreneurial and employability skills including cost of goods sold and pricing, managing inventory and money, along with customer service skills.”
As a further expression of Eat Well Market’s support for Hanover area youth, vendors have been encouraged to hire young people to help out on market days. Crick said several youth can now been seen attending to shoppers at various market stalls.
Crick hopes that yet more vendors will join the Eat Well family to enrich the overall community asset the market has become. The current number of vendors sits at 15 but Heritage Square can accommodate triple that number, an aspiration that Crick and Marshall enthusiastically share. ◊