St. John's Farmers' Market

Karl Wells
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

"It's really all about the food"

It was an overcast but warm morning. I was told to be early if I wanted to catch the best of the St. John's Farmers' Market. As I drove to the bottom of Mayor Avenue, I could see the welcome sign on the sidewalk of Bonaventure Avenue. The wooden tent sign was just a whisper north of the St. John's Curling Club. It bore the familiar logo - an arrangement of fresh vegetables - of the St. John's Farmers' Market. I made the left turn onto the short road that leads to the Lions Chalet and glanced at my watch. It read 8:50 a.m. The market operates from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday inside and around the Lions Chalet on Bonaventure Avenue. With 10 minutes grace I was relieved I wouldn't be missing any of the action.

The new full-time paid manager of the market, Sarah Hansen, had told me that since the market's "really all about the food" I should arrive early so as not to miss out on any of the prepared dishes, baked goods and fresh farm produce. Hansen said, "People come in, they get a cup of coffee, they get a big plate of African food, or they get a waffle. We have a woman who comes in and makes waffles right on the spot, and she has the toppings for them. They're just $4 each. We have a woman from Turkmenistan that has food that's fantastic. This is what people do. I mean the African woman that comes here, they're lining up at her table at nine o'clock in the morning for big plates of African food. The poor woman can't get her stuff unpacked quickly enough. People are lining up and they're like 'Come on.' It's crazy."

Nady Bell gets some help displaying locally grown green beans. Photo by Karl Wells/The Telegram

It was an overcast but warm morning. I was told to be early if I wanted to catch the best of the St. John's Farmers' Market. As I drove to the bottom of Mayor Avenue, I could see the welcome sign on the sidewalk of Bonaventure Avenue. The wooden tent sign was just a whisper north of the St. John's Curling Club. It bore the familiar logo - an arrangement of fresh vegetables - of the St. John's Farmers' Market. I made the left turn onto the short road that leads to the Lions Chalet and glanced at my watch. It read 8:50 a.m. The market operates from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday inside and around the Lions Chalet on Bonaventure Avenue. With 10 minutes grace I was relieved I wouldn't be missing any of the action.

The new full-time paid manager of the market, Sarah Hansen, had told me that since the market's "really all about the food" I should arrive early so as not to miss out on any of the prepared dishes, baked goods and fresh farm produce. Hansen said, "People come in, they get a cup of coffee, they get a big plate of African food, or they get a waffle. We have a woman who comes in and makes waffles right on the spot, and she has the toppings for them. They're just $4 each. We have a woman from Turkmenistan that has food that's fantastic. This is what people do. I mean the African woman that comes here, they're lining up at her table at nine o'clock in the morning for big plates of African food. The poor woman can't get her stuff unpacked quickly enough. People are lining up and they're like 'Come on.' It's crazy."

The first person I met outside the Lions Chalet was Nadya Bell. Nadya was dressed in a light blue hoody and stylish Canadian military camo cap covering her medium brown hair. She and a helper were unpacking buckets of green beans and rhubarb and setting the produce out on a long table protected by a white tent. Nadya told me she was growing the vegetables on the land the Lien family used to farm in Portugal Cove. She seemed quite proud of the beautiful vegetables she'd grown and rightfully so. Farming is rewarding but hard work. It's refreshing to see young entrepreneurs like Nadya involved with the market. It was good to know, as well, that the land from which Nadya harvested her vegetables was the same land that provided the first vegetables ever sold at the St. John's Farmers' Market when it began several years ago at the Masonic Temple.

How it began

Sarah Hansen explained, "The market was started in the fall of 2007 by a woman named Krista Cook who was working on the Lien's Organic Farm. At the time she was managing their farm and they had a "farm-share" going where people got a certain amount of produce every week. And they realized they had too much so, Krista had the idea to have a market at the Masonic Temple. It was just a one-off thing at the time. She just wanted to get rid of some extra produce. So, she did that and several other people got involved. She called around to see who wanted to have a table. At the time I was helping my sister make handmade soap and I was very interested in farmers' markets anyway. So, I decided to go with my sister to this market."

Eventually, a dedicated core group worked on establishing the more elaborate St. John's Farmers Market that now exists in Rabbittown. While farmers and their products are an important part of the market, Hansen and her board were interested is styling the St. John's Farmers Market along the lines of large indoor markets common in cities and countries around the world.

"If you just have produce there's really no reason for people to stick around. They'll just go and buy their produce and go home. We're more interested in an atmosphere where people can come and stand around for an hour. Go to any of the other larger markets on the mainland, even the one in Halifax, and there's a lot of arts and crafts, there's a lot of prepared foods, a lot of that kind of stuff. So, it really rounds out the whole experience. It's a real community event. People come, they get a coffee, they get something to eat, and they look around. If they need to buy a gift or if something catches their eye they buy it. They get their produce and maybe buy a dozen eggs and go on home. It's a great place to spend your money. If you're at all conscious of where your hard-earned dollars are going, this is a really good place to spend your money. You can feel really good about going to the market and spending 30 or 40 bucks."

Inside the chalet

Inside the Lions Chalet there was a friendly buzz and the aromas of everything from Lori Butler's freshly baked tomato stuffed focaccia to Cindy Curran's Thai lamb stew. (I had some of the bread with a fresh cup of market coffee and it was beautifully fragrant with wonderful flavour.) I also saw books, photographs, veggies, jams, preserves, handmade creams, jewelry, clothing, quilts, waffles, baked goods, (pies, cakes, cookies) and much more for sale. In fact, the place was bursting at the seams, especially when customers began to arrive in earnest. I couldn't help but think that the roaring success of this year's market may eventually lead to the St. John's Farmers Market being held in a bigger and better venue. You may be surprised to learn that the market hosts, according to Hansen, 1,000 visitors every Saturday. Many of them are regulars. It seems that if you go once, you'll want to go back again and again. There's good evidence that the St. John's Farmers Market is now firmly established. If things work out here as they have in other Canadian centres our market could eventually become a big revenue generator. Last year, Canadian farmers markets, in total, took in $3.09 billion. It is a huge industry and as Sarah Hansen reminded me, "It's high time we got involved."

She also indicated that her board is always searching for ways to improve the market and add even more vendors. "People want to see more farmers and, obviously, we all want that. But people want to see other things. They want to see cheese and they want to see meat. They want everything that they need at the market. So, we're still trying to lure some meat producers in. It's very difficult to get them to come. We're always working on that. It's a constant thing, trying to get more variety of vendors at the market, especially meat producers. There are lots of people doing pork and beef in Newfoundland. We just don't get it on the Avalon. It's really hard to get. Apparently there's somebody out in Whitbourne doing beef, so we're going to try to get a hold of this guy and see if he'll come in."

I really enjoyed the few hours I spent at the St. John's Farmers' Market. It's a friendly, warm place with no frowns (only smiles,) a place where even though you may not know the people, you still feel part of something very special. There are no divisions, no separation by age, background, gender or social status. A positive energy pervades the atmosphere like a tonic. That may be why people keep going back every Saturday - the faithful making a pilgrimage.

Vendor space at the St. John's Farmers Market is rented weekly for $20 outdoors and $25 indoors. A $5 discount applies to seniors and students. For farmers, the first Saturday is free. If you'd like to learn more about the St. John's Farmers Market please visit the website at http://stjohnsfarmersmarket.org.

Organizations: Lions Chalet, Curling Club

Geographic location: St. John's, Bonaventure Avenue, Turkmenistan Portugal Cove Rabbittown Halifax Newfoundland Whitbourne

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Ed
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Interesting, nice to see people back home promoting their own home grown produce, the next time I visit your fair city I will take the time to visit your farmers market, congratulations and keep up the good work.

  • Indoor Gardens
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    People grow fresh produce all year long. Indoor hydroponics works very well here, and if this venue were to remain open I bet you would be able to pick up your organic fix 12 months of the year. At least we have little need to visit the poor selection in local stores for our green veggies and strawberries! ;-)

  • liz/aka/jane
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Hansen says it's really all about the food and I agree and if this is the case why not keep it going year round like the Farmer's mrkts in Ch'town PEI and Hfx. NS. People want to come out and meet for coffee and eat something there, with that in mind let's get more food vendors like the Arab man who makes Schwarmas, now that would be busy. People want fresh veggies yes but they want to mingle too, and when the veggies are not in season, they'll still come out to walk around, look at the jewelery and art on display. Also, permanent booths for the vendors are needed, it must be inconvient to lug everything back and forth every week. A place where you could keep a small fridge, hot plate and utensils etc. would go over well with the vendors I'm certain.

  • Ed
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    Interesting, nice to see people back home promoting their own home grown produce, the next time I visit your fair city I will take the time to visit your farmers market, congratulations and keep up the good work.

  • Indoor Gardens
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    People grow fresh produce all year long. Indoor hydroponics works very well here, and if this venue were to remain open I bet you would be able to pick up your organic fix 12 months of the year. At least we have little need to visit the poor selection in local stores for our green veggies and strawberries! ;-)

  • liz/aka/jane
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Hansen says it's really all about the food and I agree and if this is the case why not keep it going year round like the Farmer's mrkts in Ch'town PEI and Hfx. NS. People want to come out and meet for coffee and eat something there, with that in mind let's get more food vendors like the Arab man who makes Schwarmas, now that would be busy. People want fresh veggies yes but they want to mingle too, and when the veggies are not in season, they'll still come out to walk around, look at the jewelery and art on display. Also, permanent booths for the vendors are needed, it must be inconvient to lug everything back and forth every week. A place where you could keep a small fridge, hot plate and utensils etc. would go over well with the vendors I'm certain.