If you passed by the Student Centre last Wednesday, you may have noticed a few different things: namely, a sizzling corn grill, upbeat music, and several tables of colourful fresh and pickled produce. In a perhaps more constructive mood than last year’s #WTFUTMFOOD hashtag, UTMSU organized the first ever farmers’ market on campus this past week.
“The response has been outstanding,” says Genny Lawen, UTMSU’s VP university affairs & academics and the organizer of the market. “Students, faculty, and administration were very excited for the farmers’ market and they were all looking forward to attending.”
And it wasn’t just fruits and veggies taking a stand. Representatives from Know Your Rights and the Food Centre, as well as the on-campus dietician, Kimberly Green, took the opportunity to discuss student well-being.
Despite a few complications natural to new events, a steady stream of interested students milled among the rows of jams and buckets of apples and stood in lines as long as those for new Apple products for the free grilled calico corn.
Despite the corn being all the rage, Harvest Goodies vendor Peter was surprised at the number of customers at his station. “I’m impressed [by the turnout],” he said as he handed out freshly picked baskets of apples, cider, and jam samples to the crowd. “This is actually better than our previous farmers’ market.”
Due to transportation difficulties, the fresh fruit vendors didn’t arrive until three o’clock. When they did, the students stumbling out of their classes took in the sweet sight of peaches, blue grapes, red apples, and nectarines, all reasonably priced and invitingly luscious. The vendors stayed past the end of the event to engage with the crowd.
“The market should have lasted longer and been more spread out,” remarked first-year student Maryam Mhammed, a comment that several other students agreed with. Indeed, with the advent of day classes, few vendors, and other complications, the farmers’ market enjoyed a solid but relatively mild success.
With the trend of buying fresh and local already roaring along, other universities have had multiple regular farmers market events. At Brock, the farmers’ market every Friday not only sells cured meats and maple syrup, but has live entertainment and a barbecue as well. And not to be outdone in any environmental undertaking, the University of British Columbia has been running its own farmers’ market twice a week for the last 10 years with the produce of its own farm. Student-run and greatly successful, the market’s revenue goes towards the teaching and research programs fostered by the farm.
Meanwhile, Mississauga itself is home to the largest open-air farmer’s market in the GTA, the Square One Farmers’ Market, which has been in operation for four decades. It features upwards of 40 vendors from across the province, and operates Wednesdays at Celebration Square and Saturdays at 3 Robert Speck Parkway.
Considering that Vicky Jezierski, UTM’s new director of hospitality and retail services, attended Scarborough’s farmer’s market in a previous year and said it was more of a “flea market” than a farmer’s market, UTMSU seems to have done a fairly good job on its first try.
“When I talked to students and even specifically campaigned during the March elections last year, there was a demand for [a farmers’ market],” says Lawen. “I received nothing but support from the different departments at the university, including the Health and Counselling Centre and the Office of the Dean, which was also a motivating factor. UTMSU was extremely excited to bring it to our UTM community.”
The idea didn’t seem feasible at first, however. “We did not think we could successfully host such a market—to get a variety of real farmers’ market-type vendors or ensure sufficient sales to the vendors so that it would be worth their time to participate,” wrote chief administrative officer Paul Donoghue, who was among the administrators present at a Food Service Advisory Meeting last year, in an email. “So we were glad to see UTMSU take on the market as their initiative.”
Donoghue said that it would be nice to have ongoing farmer’s markets, but that it has yet to be seen whether logistics and demand will allow UTMSU to organize a second market before the season ends.
Regardless of whether or not a second market will be done, UTMSU has sown the seeds for future farmers’ market endeavours.