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Magnetawan Farmers Market preparing for busy season

One of the vendors who draws a big crowd and has been a regular at the farmers market is a meat and cheese guy from the Barrie area
Patti Paul manages the Magnetawan Farmers Market and she is confident this is the year the annual event finally gets back to pre-COVID levels.

Patti Paul, the manager of the Magnetawan Farmers Market, strongly believes this is the year the annual event gets back to pre-COVID participation levels.

If she's right, then 30 vendors will set up shop under the roof of the Magnetawan Lions Pavilion every Saturday from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving weekend from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Paul says the merchants will display their goods on eight foot long tables along the entire walls of the pavilion and also in the middle of the facility.

The configuration is a far cry from the vendor layout during COVID.

Being an outdoor event, the local farmers' market wasn't shut down but Paul faced strict guidelines on how the popular Saturday event could be held.

“During the first year of COVID I could only bring in food vendors and that was it,” she said. “I had only eight vendors that year.  I sat at the entrance with hand sanitizer and could only let in a maximum of 25 people at a time and they had to keep six feet apart.”

Paul said restrictions loosened a bit in 2021 and she was able to add four craft tables in addition to the eight food vendors.

Although restrictions ended in 2022, the most vendors Paul was able to attract last year was 20 because some merchants retired during the pandemic while others remained hesitant about taking part in a farmers' market. But Paul has been in contact with new vendors who are committed to taking part in the weekly event.

Paul said this year also marks a return to holding the farmers' market from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving compared to a mid-June start during the pandemic. Paul says the farmers' market offers a wide array of goods including an individual from Sundridge who specializes in lettuces and spinach and a Gravenhurst merchant who brings up fresh vegetables picked from a food terminal in southern Ontario.

Paul says one of the vendors who draws a big crowd and has been a regular at the farmers market is her meat and cheese guy from the Barrie area, Cosmo's Smoked Meats. Paul says The Cornball Store from Magnetawan is also back. The business specializes in baked goods like breads, danishes, butter tarts, and croissants and Paul says they regularly sell out so buyers have to arrive early.

The farmers' market also features a little taste of Italy. Parry Sound-based Attilio's Olive Oil and Fine Foods is back this year and for Paul, this vendor has a personal connection.

Jodi Paul, Patti Paul's daughter, operates the business with her business partner Gianni Caschera. Caschera owns an olive grove in Veroli Italy near Rome which his dad Attilio operated until his passing. Now each fall, Caschera and Paul head to Veroli to press the olives and bring back loads of the popular olive oil in addition to a variety of balsamic vinegars.

Paul says a vendor who appeared at the farmers' market for the first time last year and was very popular will be back this season. This is Spike's Stoneworks of Burk's Falls and he turns stones into bowls, plates, candle holders, coasters and that's just a sample of what he produces.

Other crafts tables will feature woodworking, knitted and crocheted goods as well as jewellery.

Musicians from the Almaguin region also perform on one side of the pavilion and Paul says she's already booked acts for the entire season. Among the performers is the duet team of guitarist Douglas McLean and fiddler Arlene McLean of Emsdale and sole act Glen Reid who is a fiddler also from Emsdale.

Paul says each weekend the farmers' market easily draws 1,000 people. A major reason for that is that the Magnetawan area is home to many cottagers from the Toronto region. Additionally, nearby Ahmic Lake has numerous cottages owned by Americans who have vacationed in the area for generations. Paul says the cottagers are regular customers of the vendors and sometimes the cottagers also rent tables to sell some of the goods, like jewellery, that they make.

The Magnetawan Farmers' Market has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1990 when at best it only attracted six vendors. It had two different homes over that period until 2000 when it relocated to the Magnetawan Lions Pavilion where now the vendors and patrons are shielded from bad weather.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.