The May long weekend is typically referred to as the unofficial start to summer, but for those who love outdoor markets, Saturday’s opening of the North Bay Farmers’ Market for the season had them feeling as though summer has already arrived.
“Many vendors experienced record-breaking sales at the North Bay Farmers’ Market opening day,” said market manager Mary Willard.
“It is very exciting. The cold weather isn’t deterring people from coming down. All the vendors are just amazed at the turnout,” said Willard.
A total of 56 vendors were set up at the Oak Street location.
“There is a great variety and that is what makes this market so special. There are interesting foods, the craft vendors are amazing, there are all kinds of plants and produce for sale. Right now, you can smell the waffles. There’s everything here.”
The market attracts vendors from across the region.
“There are a lot of farmers out of areas like South River, Trout Creek, and Sturgeon Falls. We have a radius of around 100 kilometres that we pull from, and we have a lot of vendors from North Bay,” said Willard.
“To be a produce vendor in the North Bay Farmers’ Market, you have to be MyPick certified, which means you grow everything that you sell at the market. If you want to be a craft vendor, you have to personally make everything that you sell. So that is a big part of the criteria with the market. We’re a MyPick certified market which means that someone can’t just go to a depot and get vegetables and bring them in.”
Happy with the opening day turnout, market chair Mitch Deschatelets is hoping for a good growing season despite the recent wet weather.
“It brought challenges to most growers. They needed to do a little more work on canals and drainage, but overall it looks pretty good,” said Deschatelets.
“There are some crops that don’t need much heat and they’re doing really well such as strawberries and raspberries. The ground wasn’t frozen in the spring because of all that snow cover that we had, so it helped to absorb a lot of the water. We were pretty lucky.”
Deschatelets who operates Leisure Farms in Sturgeon Falls, says asparagus which is usually the first crop at the market is just starting.
Many growers have the benefit of greenhouses, which helps produce greens when the fields are too wet.
Anyone walking through the crowds knows there is a social component to the market.
It is not uncommon for people to bump into friends and stop and chat.
Jesse Graham and his wife bundled up their two young children and headed to the Farmers’ Market to check out the vendors and enjoy the sense of community it brings.
“It is a great event for families to come to enjoy the community. There is lots of homemade food and lots of events going on and good music. We do it every year,” said Graham.
“We always come and grab a treat for the kids. It is just good fun.”
Customer John Van Niekerk returned to the market for the first time since moving to another community three years ago.
He noticed big changes even in that short period of time.
“This is really exciting. We live in the country now, so we dressed up and decided to come out. I love the music. I love the plants. We went to a vendor who grows perennials and bought some plants. I just wish it was a little warmer,” he grinned.
“There’s more people now and I think the vendors are better. We’re about halfway through and so far, it is pretty good.”
Doreen Bellaire has been a regular customer from the very beginning.
“After a long winter, it is always really nice to get out and see new people, and also talk to the vendors and see people you’ve known in North Bay all your life. We all meet up here, so it is a really great place to get together.”
Vendor Aline Coote, owner of Wearable Treasures from the Shores of Lake Nipissing, is looking forward to another busy season.
“I started when we were on McIntyre Street as an occasional vendor. That would have been in 2005. I’ve been permanent for about 10 years,” said Coote.
“I always say this is my market family. I really love seeing people when they first see my work, that it appeals to their creative side, and you know they appreciate it. And the repeat customers are always nice. I remember when I first started out, in my second year someone said they saw me the year before and they were hoping I would be here because they wanted to buy something else. It is always nice when they come to find you.”
This will be the first full market season from Brittney Atkinson and her partner, whose coffee company, Tastefully Muskoka, is based out of Trout Creek and Port Sydney.
“We’re hoping to meet a lot of new people and new customers here in North Bay. We’re relatively new. We’ve only been in the business for just over a year, so we’re looking forward to getting some feedback and expanding our business as much as we can,” said Atkinson.
“We love all the other vendors. They are so welcoming, and all the customers are super, super friendly."
The market will continue with festivals throughout the season, starting with the Maple Syrup Festival scheduled for next Saturday, May 25.
Last February the market won a highly prestigious award at a conference in Niagara Falls.
“We were awarded the Market of the Year throughout the province,” said Deschatalets.
“That means a lot to us and we want to get even better, so we’re going to keep on working towards that.”
The market will be open Wednesday’s from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. starting May 22, with 22 vendors.