Regardless of what anyone says, the only universal language that matters is delicious food. Sure, we all have our own tastes and preferences, but a good meal can bring people together more than the release of GTA V or a hatred for Miley Cyrus.
And although delicious food seems to only come from fine dining experiences or our grandma’s kitchens, it’s more accessible than many of us know.
Locavores. Yes, that is a real term. They have one up on foodies of the city, and continue to indulge in consistently delicious food by eating locally and experiencing fresh and tasty meals. A locavore is someone who eats local food that has been grown or produced within a designated radial area of his or her choice.
Local food is commonly defined as any product farmed within a 160-kilometer radius of your residence. But currently, in grocery stores and farmer’s markets across the province, local has become more synonymous with “organic” and can include food from within a 1,500-kilometer radius, stretching all across Ontario.
Hamilton is a hotspot for local farmers' markets and homegrown produce. Its proximity to rural areas in Ancaster, Waterdown and Vineland are easily accessed from markets across the city.
Buying specialized produce can seem like a hassle, but it is easier and cheaper than many assume. You don’t need to take a stance as strong as a locavore, but purchasing local food is a process that can be easily eased into.
The largest and most accessible farmers' market for Mac students is the Hamilton Farmers' Market located at 35 York Boulevard. Since 1837, the market has been going strong at the corner of York and James, selling produce, meat and dairy products. Not even a 15-minute journey, one bus ride and a short walk will bring you to this two-storey market.
With such a long history, it’s natural that students have and should be drawn to it.
“You can always tell when school starts,” says Cheryl Berry, of Fleetwood Farms in Harley, Ont. whose family has been taking part in the Hamilton Farmer’s Market for three generations.
“We get a lot of students,” she says. “Food from the market is so much fresher.”
Although Fortino’s and Metro offer up some wonderful genetically modified creations, there’s no denying that farm-picked goods are fresher and healthier.
And surprisingly, most of the produce available at farmers' markets is noticeably cheaper than that of large grocery stores. Farmers price their crops competitively to increase sales and sell their crop yield for the year. At the HFM, you can expect to find baskets of apples for three dollars, green beans for two dollars, and bunches of grapes for less than three dollars. I mean, really, you can’t go wrong.
Ian Walker, a fourth-year Classics student and employee of De la Terre Bakery in Vineland (a bread supplier at the HFM) explains that it’s not just about the taste or price of the food that should convince you to buy locally, but the bigger picture of sustainable local economies.
“Buying locally is important for the environment, as well as knowing where your food comes from… but it’s also important because the money you spend goes back into your economy,” he says.
Joleen Schmidt, a third-year Honours Cognitive Science of Language student, grew up on a large-scale dairy farm in Tavistock, Ont. where she saw first-hand how local food is curated and how important it is to support farm sales.
“All of our dairy is sold to a supplier in our town,” she says.
“It’s up to farmers to produce their quota for the year and sell it, otherwise an entire farm can go downhill. It’s something that we’ve seen happen to some of our neighbouring farmers,” she adds.
Farms depend on sales to keep themselves supported and up and running. By buying local and contributing to the economy of our city and its surrounding areas, you’ll be helping farmers, and helping yourself.
And as someone who spent a lifetime growing up on locally-grown food, Schmidt had something to say about the difference homegrown makes.
“There’s a huge difference! A lot of our local crops are smaller, but it tastes a lot better. Corn on the cob, my lord, don’t get me started on that! Farmers feed cities! It tastes better, and you feel healthier knowing where your food came from and what’s in it,” she says.
Local food is decidedly delicious. And shopping for products from close to home is easy and rewarding. The next time you need to go grocery shopping, consider stopping by a nearby market and picking something up from your native territory. I assure you, you will have a fresh and exciting experience.
Dos & Don’ts
DO shop around: walking into a farmers' market, especially one as large as the York Street location, can be intimidating. Take some time to walk around and compare prices and food quality. All the farmers are pretty friendly and non-confrontational, so you should be fine.
DO read the fine print: a few sellers will also be marketing outsourced produce often from the U.S. I made the rookie mistake of accidentally purchasing strawberries labeled “Product of California”- don’t follow in my footsteps. Double-check your labels before handing over your cash.
DON’T go for the biggest seller: some stands will be exceedingly larger than others, but that doesn’t mean their produce is better quality. Let me tell you, bigger is not always better.
DO ask for a sample: use your judgment with this one. Grapes, cherry tomatoes, cheese, some products are definitely conducive to sampling. But when it comes to potatoes or squash or a loaf of bread, mull over what you think is appropriate and remind yourself that this isn’t Costco.
DO bring your own reusable bag: don’t be that person who puts their fresh local produce into a bag that will sit in a landfill for decades on end.
Seasonal Foods to look for
During the months of September, October and November, you can expect to find:
- Swiss Chard
- And so much more…