Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market – 34 years and counting
For more than thirty years the Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market has been Ottawa’s best kept secret! Yes, you have read right, the Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market has been around for 34 years to be exact.
All started in 1989 as an initiative of the Waldorf school (downtown Ottawa) when organic, local food, biodynamic and regenerative agriculture were seldom used terms. But the school and those first few farmers who joined were real visionaries. Small and simple it was, but the demand for organic products was high enough that the market opened year-round in 1990.
The market has moved several times and it was even, for a very short period, in a private backyard, which shows how much determination there is from vendors and customers to keep this “institution’’ alive and well. At one point, the market even had its own music band!
It was always based on a collective approach: minimum structure and infrastructure, a lot of volunteer work and a goal to be financially independent from grants or other public support. The market has had its challenges, like any organization, but sharing responsibility and workload has minimized expenses and that is the main reason it survives and was able to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis.
Of the first vendors, Hedwig (Glen Andrew Farm) and David (Ferme terre à terre) still remain and offer their products with the same passion. Today the second generation of farmers (at Ferme terre à terre and La rosée) and second-generation customers (children of long-time customers) are coming to the market.
It is a small market with a warm family atmosphere. It is open every Saturday year-round from 10 am until noon, closing only for two weeks at Christmas, and offers an amazing variety of organic food. The new location at Riverside United Church, 3191 Riverside Drive, offers indoor or outdoor shopping, depending on what the weatherman presents us with that week.
“Our customers are very loyal,” says market manager David Charette, “some traveling very far to attend the market regularly – even as far as Montreal.” Why are these people making the trip? Vendor Anne Mareschal believes there are many motivations: “Some want to provide healthy fresh food for their families, some are treating health issues, and some see the benefit of supporting small, ecological, humane family farms. Over the years we have become an important part of our customers’ families, and now their grown-up children come to shop, bringing their young families.”
What is different about the Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market? As far as we know we are the only farmers’ market in Ontario that requires all of its new vendors to be certified organic. The customers who attend our market understand the importance of organic and the costs associated with organic production.
In order to provide the wide assortment of organic produce required by their customer base, vendors are allowed to re-sell products from other farms, as long as those products are certified organic. Some products found at the market are sourced from a distance – olive oil from Greece, citrus and other tropical fruit, licensed organic raw milk cheese from a dairy in Eastern Ontario, and much more.
Over the more than thirty years of operation, the market has had a few changes. The current location at Riverside United Church is the fourth location. During the COVID lockdown the market managers, vendors and customers worked tirelessly with Ottawa Public Health to ensure that the market was able to remain open and be declared an essential service. This new location offers lots of free parking, great accessibility, and the ability to move indoors in inclement weather while being able to maintain social distancing.
Other changes have revolved around organic status. “In the beginning not all of us were certified organic” says market manager David Charette, “but about twenty-five years ago the majority of vendors decided that new vendors would have to be certified organic. It was, and still is, the best decision we have made as a group in order to ensure the highest standards of product.”
“The availability of an organic market is an important niche to fill” says organic producer Karen Cook. “Our customers depend on us as an important support in their health and food security journey, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
What’s ahead for the market? “We would love to be able to provide an even greater variety of organic products at the market”, says market manager David Charette. “If you are a certified organic producer or in transition to organic production, why not apply to become a vendor?”
The market needs more vendors to provide an even greater variety of meat products, vegetables and fruit, as well as processed items like baked goods, healthy snacks, dry and canned goods such as beans, flour, pasta, spice packs, sauces and jams. Vendor applications can be downloaded from the market’s website.
For more information about the market and its vendors visit the web page OOFMarket.ca and follow the market news on Facebook.
Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market
3191 Riverside Drive, Ottawa every Saturday morning