We’ve had a beautiful stretch of weather in Ottawa, and this week I made a trip to the Byward Market to pick up some local produce. When I lived in downtown Ottawa, I visited the market regularly on walks with my dog to pick up fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers.
Ottawa has two public markets, the Byward Market and the Parkdale Market, which are permanent, year-round fixtures and host a variety of vendors. Public markets in Canada have a long history, acting as gathering points for the community to buy, sell, or trade goods. Ottawa’s historic Byward Market has served the community for nearly 200 years and provides a unique shopping experience for residents and visitors alike.
Farmers’ markets, on the other hand, operate seasonally, are usually held outdoors, and the space is often empty during non-market days. Across the city, Ottawa has a number of farmers’ markets, many held on the weekends, that feature food and goods from local farmers, specialty food processors, and artisans.
Across Canada, consumer preferences for farm-fresh goods and local produce make public markets and farmers’ markets key retail hubs that bridge the urban and rural. According to Farmers’ Markets Ontario, over the past 10 years, sales in Ontario are estimated to have increased annually about 10 to 12 per cent to about $800 million with an economic impact of over $2.5 billion. As well, the pandemic has led to many farmers changing how they do business, including increasing the proportion of direct sales to consumers, according to the 2021 Census of Agriculture.
I always feel a sense of nostalgia when I visit a market. When I was a child, my mom took me shopping with her on Saturday mornings. She instilled from an early age the importance of shopping locally and in season and the joy of eating fresh food that was produced by farmers our community. We would start at the Parkdale Market and pick up the fruit, vegetables and herbs our family would need for the week. It was a fun experience, and we would talk to the vendors and try samples. My mom always planned out our meals and carried a grocery list, but she left room for flexibility, depending on what was fresh at the market. For example, our fruit changed with the seasons, from spring berries to summer peaches to fall apples. After we shopped at the market, we’d go to a local bakery, a butcher shop, and lastly the grocery store to stock up on staple items.
This week, when I visited the Byward Market, I bought fresh cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and red peppers from one of the vendors. When I got home, I used them to make a salad along with some spinach and feta cheese I had in the fridge. There is something special about preparing and eating food at peak freshness, and I feel good knowing that I’m reducing my carbon footprint by buying food that was produced in the community.
Just like farming traditions are passed on through generations, I’m grateful to my mom for passing on her tradition of shopping locally. I’m looking forward to more trips to my local public markets and farmers’ markets throughout the year to get the freshest produce while supporting local farmers and producers.
Lisa Weagle is an Olympian and World Champion in curling. A lifelong Ottawa resident, she is a three-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion and won gold, silver, and bronze at the World Women’s Curling Championships. She represented Canada in the 2022 and 2018 Olympic Winter Games. She is a multiple all-star award winner, Scotties MVP, and a certified coach.