If you are visiting the Okanagan don’t miss a trip to Penticton’s weekly farmers’ market. It’s a worthwhile destination for foodies, craft-lovers and anyone who appreciates a taste of the local. The market, held every Saturday from May 4th to October 26 between 8:30-1:00 is considered by those “in the know” to be one of the best in the Okanagan if not the entire province (permanent Granville Island Market excluded:). The market is organized by a not-for-profit society to provide local farmers and craft- makers with an opportunity to to sell their products directly to the public. The weekly event (combined with the Penticton Downtown Community Market) attracts about 5000 visitors each week, a boost to the local economy and a tourist event heaven. A smaller scale event begun in 1991 at Gyro Park, the city’s main waterfront park a couple of blocks off Main Street. It has since grown into the event that it is today, attracting visitors from Vernon to Osoyoos and beyond.
On Saturday mornings during the season Penticton essentially closes several blocks of it’s downtown core to accommodate the large market with the hundreds of tents set up by vendors of produce, artisan-crafted food products (preserves, honey, vinegars, spices), flowers, eggs, herbs, artisan crafts, jewelry and more. If this is not enough then you have several food trucks and musical groups set up to feed and entertain you at several intersections of the large market. Thousands of people (doggies welcome) stroll down the walk-only tree-lined avenue, sipping coffee, filling their grocery carts, taking pictures and talking to other shoppers and vendors. The market offers a social opportunity for locals and many walk from their homes and vacation rentals nearby to mingle, people-watch and participate in this weekly celebration of local produce, craft and cuisine. The market is only a block from the beach and you can enjoy your coffee and pastry on a bench or on the grass watching the activity on the lake before returning to the market.
When I visit the Penticton’s Farmers Market I allow myself “a little” indulgence. It’s part of the experience and I walk it off, hopefully:). Cotton Candy (oh, yes) from the cutest little Cloud Nine Cotton Candy wagon (all organic , no artificial colours or flavours) in lychee, watermelon, caramel, pear and even grapefruit flavours), pita bread seasoned with za’atar from Falafel Bite and freshly squeezed lemonade from the lemonade stand. Fried spiral potato on a stick from the young spud guy (yes, no calories and take an extra napkin). A cup of freshly brewed strong coffee from Backyard Beans and Joy Road Cuisine de Terroir fruit galettes or cinnamon buns can be easily transported to a park bench behind the market or even taken to the beach and enjoyed on the grassy lakeshore. Lunch has to be either a take out soup from the Brodo Kitchen stand or at their Brodo’s Kitchen Restaurant just a few block up Main street. Their chilled gazpacho with cornbread crumbs and vegetable relish was so good I had to buy some to take home. When going to the market I learned to always bring a grocery cart that I can pull along on wheels. Even if my fridge is full and I go there “just to look”, I inevitable fill up the cart to it’s maximum capacity. How can I not? Just think of all the beautiful foods I can make with all this “stuff”.
As much as they seem like a simple fun way to spend a Saturday morning, farmers’ markets serve a much greater purpose. Farmers’ markets are an ancient concept and historically served to maintain social and economic ties between communities, linking villages in a geographical area and expanding the market for farm and artisan products. Call me nostalgic but when I stroll through a farmer’s market in Canada or abroad I sense that I am part of a historical institution linking past and present and in a small way I am contributing to an important social and economic activity in the community. Farmer markets also help achieve the larger goal of sustainable agriculture and promotion of local food systems (as opposed to industrial food system). It provides a market for local farms that are not part of the large industrial food production and an expanding market for organic farm products.
Much like the Terroir concept in wine making farmers’ markets impart a sense of place and make you aware of the locality and seasonality of foodstuff. Wandering through markets from May to October you become aware of how they change through the season. From asparagus, spring peas and artichokes of spring, to green beans, tomatoes and zucchini of summer, to root vegetables, pears and apples of fall, colours, textures and fragrances continue to change, providing a sense of season and a changing culinary landscape. If it’s not in season, it is not at the market, naturally educating consumers about the food we should be eating in each season. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are also at the peak of their flavour and nutritional content. There is room for industrial food production but produce in the large chains grocery stores is often out of season and far from where it was grown.
I believe that we owe a lot to our farmers and should get in the habit of supporting them through shopping at local farmers’ markets. Next time you drive down the highway and see a farmer working in the field or orchard roll your window down, stretch your arm out and wave, thanking him or her for connecting us with past generations, their significant contribution to the community and ultimately for the food on your table.
So, go to the market this weekend and participate in this ancient tradition to support your community. You’ll be glad you did.
Location: 100 Block, Main Street, Penticton, BC
May4 – October 26
Here are some of the “must stop at” stalls at the market, but let your eyes lead you and talk to the vendors. there are so many wonderful organic produce vendors with beautiful fresh produce. I am only listing a few.
Joy Road Catering. This catering company par excellence is well known in Okanagan culinary circles and beyond and their fabulous vineyard dinners at many of the vineyards around the Okanagan are frequently sold out months in advance. Run by experienced chefs Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart this catering company grew from selling breads and pastries at farmers’ market to the pre-eminent catering company they run today with their team. Thankfully, you can find them at the Penticton and Naramatha markets weekly throughout the season and enjoy some of their products outside of a catered event. Their fruit galettes, granola, giant cinnamon buns and organic preserves are a must try.
Farmers Dotter Organics is a must stop for fabulous breads. Yve Kosugi bakes the naturally leavened breads (no commercial yeast) in the wood-fired oven built by Allan Scott. This is not just any name. The Australian born Allan Scott was a famed blacksmith and a bread maker who, over a career that spanned decades, built brick wood-fired oven in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. The oven at Farmers Dotter was originally built on what was then Old Grist Mill in the Similkameen Valley as a communal wood fired oven but the project fell through and after being built, the oven sat dormant on this farm field until Yve came along. The oven’s hearth, measuring 72″ X 96″ is one of the largest built by Scott. It is heated up to 700℉ and allows for three batches per firing. Yve tells me that the bread baking system is “all in the family”. She is able to buy grains from her mother who runs a farm in Saskatchewan and flavour the breads with herbs and salts from their own farm. While buying a loaf of bread I suggest you also try their jams, artisan salts and organic garlic. Be sure to arrive early to avoid bitter disappointment. I picked up the last loaf there on Saturday, barely snatching it from another customer who missed it by a few seconds. I plan to drive down to the farm and see the operation first hand.
Little Farm is another bread stall worth looking out for. Little Farm is run by the former owners of the fabulous Okanagan Grocery Artisan Bread Alishan and Driediger Rhys Pender. I believe that Alishan is the bread baker. To get their breads you must arrive early as by 10:00 or 11:00 they are often sold out. I have had a couple of disappointments arriving at their stall only to find it vacant with a “sold out” sign and only a few crumbs left on the lovely French linen hand painted by Alishan. You must try one of their chocolate baguettes and why not splurge on hand painted kitchen linen by Alishan as well, they are beautiful. Rhys and Alishan recently launched Little Farm Winery in Cawston, Similkameen Valley, producing single vineyard chardonnay, riesling and rosé.
Blackbird Organics is the place to pick up some of the best organic eggs with deep orange yolk and great creamy texture and flavour. The Similkameen based farm raises chickens on feed free of hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified grains and pesticides. Once you taste their eggs you won’t be able to buy supermarket eggs again. If you wish to avoid the sold out sign at their table, come early.
Honest Food Farm is the place to stop for an extensive variety of heirloom tomatoes and other organic and heirloom vegetables. The farm is run by Uri Zebroff and his wife Brendie. Uri grew up on his parents orchards at the other end of the valley and after managing orchards in the valley he finally committed to farming his own land. They are now developing their 5 acres farm growing a variety of heirloom vegetables and some fruit trees. The tomatoes were so beautiful and full of flavour and made it into a number of simple dishes in my kitchen already.
Similkameen Apiaries Honey is another must buy item at the market. Bee Keepers Blair and Cheryl Tarves operate their certified organic farm producing honey collected only in the Similkameen valley and sought after by local chefs. The honey is harvested without any chemicals (to drive the bees away from the honey). It comes from a narrow geographical zone and is unique and intensely flavoured. Aside from the obvious uses, try a spoonful in your salad dressing or a drizzle of honey over a salad. You’d be surprised how good it taste.
Wine Country Greenhouses are the herb vendors at the market and provide herbs to bakeries and restaurants in the valley. I don’t have a vegetable garden but do grow several herbs and plan to visit their greenhouses and see what they have. On Saturday I bought two pots of Greek Mountain Tea and planted them in my rooftop garden. I have only seen this tea and dry leaf form before. According to Bill Allen and Patrice Lemare, proprietors, they do well in this soil and climate. Will report more when I prepare tea from the leaves. You can also bring them your hanging baskets around Easter and pick them up around May long weekend with the herbs and berry selection of your choice (how about hanging strawberry basket? it will produce strawberries until fall). They also sell herbs through the winter.