A few changes at the Thursday Organic Farmers’ Market

Background: the market snack bar run by park staff sells a great deal of non-organic food, even when it’s outdoors, i.e. not part of the rink. It didn’t use to, but when Dufferin Grove stopped being a city-CELOS partnership run by on-site city staff, the market snack bar changed its menu. Organic hot dogs gave way to ordinary hot dogs, which became one of the biggest sellers: about 200 hot dogs every Thursday in summer, a bargain at $2 each, slathered with non-organic toppings and enclosed in a little “Sunshine” brand bun. The market snack bar still sells the tasty salads and soups that Mary Sylwester cooks, but the supplies for preparing these dishes are now ordered centrally. That means that during high summer when the market is overflowing with just-picked vegetables, the current purchasing system doesn’t allow the cooks to buy organic peppers, cucumbers, onions, zucchini (really), tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and herbs from the market. Olive oil no longer comes from market vendor Angelos, and the park’s current oil is not organic. Coffee, tea, and maple syrup are no longer organic, nor are the sugar and butter used for muffins, cookies, and cinnamon buns sold at the snack bar. Nor, of course are the juice boxes, or the pop. A happy exception is park cook/gardener Leslie Lindsay’s mostly-organic focaccia, for which she uses produce picked from the park garden whenever she can.

Market rules: What this menu means is that for some time now the park’s market snack bar has not followed the market’s vendor rules, that say “Products must be organic or it must be clear to customers that they are not organic (and with a good reason).” Another rule is “Vendors have to produce the majority of what they sell.” This used to be true for the park table when the market was young – the park bread was all baked in the park ovens, entirely with organic ingredients, and the snack bar was a sideline, serving food prepared mainly with farmers’ market ingredients. In the past few years, though, the balance has turned. In summer the snack bar outsells the bread, partly because of re-selling cheap hot dogs and drinks.

Dufferin Grove market manager Anne Freeman pointed out the problems to recreation management more than two years ago, as did the park staff who cook for the market. But there was never a solution, so for a time everyone gave up. Recently, the issue was put back on the table. Near the end of August, Anne was asked to a meeting with management (sadly, the park cooks were not invited). It was agreed that organic hot dogs would be tried again, organic box drinks (Kiju) would be investigated, and the market would offer “market bucks” to allow park staff to buy fresh market produce for making the snack bar food. In addition, there is to be clearer signage pointing out which park snack bar foods are not fully or even partly organic.

The good news is that until the purchasing for the park’s market snack bar is fixed, market customers have a lot of other options. The market is full of good mostly-organic locally–made food for people who want to have their supper there. Many of those offerings are reasonably priced and filling, even if they aren’t quite as cheap as the city-staffed park snack bar. Hopefully the promised changes in the park staff’s menu will be coming through soon.


How do we get new steps and a broader path for the farmers’ market?

How do we get new steps and a broader path for the farmers’ market?
Steep hill, eroding path
Steep Hill, Eroding Path

The weekly Thursday farmers’ market, now in its 13th year, is thriving. When it moves outside for the warm season, the market is on two levels – on the broad paved apron of the rink house building, and along the old asphalt path that leads into the park from the entrance by the stoplight intersection – down a mostly gentle-sloped hillside. The narrow path, which was put in at least thirty years ago, is starting to crumble at the edges, and the compaction caused by the market goers’ feet has eliminated the grass next to the path. Eleven years ago, now-retired Parks supervisor Sandy Straw said she’d get some broad park-style steps put into the steepest part of the hillside, to let the market users go from one part of the market to the other more comfortably, and to reduce the erosion of the hillside. But those steps are still not there, and the path needs more than ever to be redone. When word came down recently that the rink clubhouse would be renovated next year for $250,000, market manager Anne Freeman thought that the project could perhaps include the path being repaved and broadened, with permeable stone, and the steps being put in. But Park supervisor Lennox Morgan said that’s not how the City works – the rink house renovation project comes under Recreation, whereas anything outside of the building comes under Parks. Projects cannot be combined. Silos again!

Mr.Morgan said he would consider adding the farmers’ market-area steps and path and erosion control to the bottom of the Parks “minor capital” project list. But that might still take years. Is there a way to integrate Parks section projects with projects that come from the Recreation section? Is there a way for market users (farmers, customers, recreation staff) to get a seat at the table in downtown meeting rooms? Ideas are very welcome.

From the Summer 2015 Newsletter