One of my favourite Saturday morning routines is shopping at my local farmers’ market. Although all markets have their own schedules, my local market is open year-round and provides the ability to stock up on local produce, cheese, meat, and other fresh agricultural goodies. I try to attend the farmers’ market as often as I can to purchase local food, interact with the community, and build a deeper understanding of where our food comes from.
Not only are goods fresh and fairly well-priced, but there’s also an element of community building. Consumers and farmers from across the community come together to celebrate the (literal) fruits of their labour. Participating in this type of interaction – both with vendors and other farmers’ market shoppers – provides an undeniable experience that is more enriching than a traditional grocery store visit.
So now with spring (officially) upon us, could there be a better way to celebrate than exploring what your local farmers’ market has to offer? If you reside in Ontario as I do, you are never too far from one. Here are some practical tips to help locate and make the most of your farmers’ market experience.
1. How to Find a Local Farmers’ Market
An excellent resource to help you locate your nearest market is the Farmers’ Markets Ontario member directory. Here, markets are searchable by postal code and also the listing also stipulates which days per week that the market is open. There is a mixture of weekday and weekend markets, making it easier than ever to attend a farmers’ market.
In addition to Farmers’ Markets Ontario, Foodland Ontario provides several resources to encourage Ontario residents to buy local goods. Foodland Ontario serves as the domestic marketing unit for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Foodland Ontario promotes the benefits of buying fresh produce and processed agricultural foods, highlighted by their “Good Things Grow in Ontario” slogan. The organization is integral in championing and promoting the consumption of Ontario’s agricultural goods, and as such, offer a ‘Finding Local’ food resource. Here, Ontarians can find farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and restaurants that support the consumption of local food.
2. How to Know What’s Fresh: Seasonal Availability Guide
Most farmers’ markets offer imported products to fill availability gaps during the winter and off-season months. Knowing what food is currently in-season will help consumers to choose locally sourced products over others which have been purchased from outside of the community. This useful Foodland Ontario Availability Guide identifies when Ontario fruits and vegetables are in season, so knowing which products are fresh and local is much easier.
3. Eat Fresher, Eat Healthier: Nutrition Guide
Looking to add more Vitamin A or Folate to your diet, but unsure which products offer the maximum return per serving? Foodland Ontario’s Nutrition Guide provides nutritional information associated with many of the products that can be purchased at farmers’ markets. With this information, consumers can make a well-informed decision about how to build their desired diet, then find a farmers’ market to gather the foods needed.
4. How to Optimize Local Food Storage
This useful tool provides consumers with tips on how to store various fruits and vegetables for optimal freshness and minimal waste. These resources are provided by EatRight Ontario, a provincial service staffed by Registered Dieticians and funded by the Government of Ontario to support its goal of improving the health of individuals and communities in Ontario.
Government Business Grants to Support Ontario Food Producers
In addition to providing local food accessibility resources to Ontario consumers, the government of Ontario provides small business grants and loans to encourage Ontario farming investment. The following programs are a few of the many options for Ontario food producers.
The Local Food Investment Fund is an initiative by the Greenbelt Fund to stimulate the awareness and consumption of Ontario-based food and beverage products. Producers and processors are both eligible to receive Ontario government funding support.
- Funding: Offers up to 50% of project expenses with no defined maximum funding. Up to $150,000 available towards capital expenses.
- Projects: Strategic planning, market research, equipment upgrades, training, development of educational or training materials.
- Timeline: Application intake dates are defined by Greenbelt Fund. Refer to the Local Food Investment Fund’s Get Started page for the next available date, or to receive notice about future intake periods, subscribe to Mentor Works’ small business funding newsletter.
Growing Forward 2 is a federally-funded program with provincial variations to better serve local business needs. Two funding streams, one for food producers and one for processors, will provide funding for business expansion activities.
- Funding: Offers up to 35-50% of project expenses to a maximum $350,000. Up to $100,000 available towards capital expenses.
- Projects: Business/ opportunity assessments, audits, planning, skills development, training projects.
- Timeline: Applications are due on select dates throughout the year. To ensure you’re informed of the next deadline, register for Mentor Works’ Canadian government funding newsletter.