If you know anything about me – which you probably don’t – you would know I am a diehard Guelph Farmers’ Market regular. It’s been the anchor of my Saturday mornings for several years – perhaps my longest standing commitment besides my rabbit, who is ten and also has a penchant for local produce. Some visits I lumber home, my tote packed heavy with the freshest ingredients grown and made with love, poised to put together a potluck dish that elicits a ‘how is this so good?!?’ from my family and friends. Other visits, I leave nearly-empty handed, satiated with a cupof coffee and a couple chats. In fact, if you know anything about me – which probably you should, because I’m frequently going on tangents about myself – you would know I love to run into acquaintances and chit chat about everything and nothing in particular. 

That’s what’s so great about the Market: it’s a destination, an actively-created space that’s the perfect place to linger, chat, and people- watch. And, of course, fill your boots with the tastiest treats, the freshest veg, and among the best cuts of meat you’ll find in the region. All this produced by decades-established family farms and fresh-faced entrepreneurs alike. And all of them a part of the historied quilt that is the Guelph Farmers’ Market. 

Built in 1911 as an animal barn for the Ontario Winter Fair (now, the Royal Winter Fair),
the market building was once connected to modern-day City Hall via an underground tunnel. (The stories of long-forgotten tunnels throughout the Royal City are more than enough to fill several pages of this magazine, but that’s for another issue – today we’re talking about food.) 

This particular Saturday morning is basked
in a heavy sunshine that takes the edge off the autumn chill, and as I swing around to the backside of the Market with my tote bag full of tote bags, I see the outdoor lot is flush with vendors. As the days grow colder, things will begin to shift inside – though an armful of vendors will bundle up and greet you with a mittened wave throughout the season. 

I slip inside and beeline for the back corner, where I am greeted by my pals Jay and Ryan of the Guildsmen Café. While I am by no means married to one particular coffee shop, I’ll happily declare this one my favourite. Here, perfectly pulled espresso meets super-locally- sourced ingredients like elderflower foraged from the Yorklands Green Hub. (Depending on the weather and my mood, I might enjoy their Elderflower Wildbrew, which drinks like a strong iced tea softened with a floral veil.) Today I stick to my usual Lavender Oat Latte, the namesake ingredient sourced from Baroque Botanicals, a local farm whose booth you’ll also find here. 

Equipped with my java (and laughing to myself at the thought of using the word ‘java’), I dive back in. I have a few goals today: to find a housewarming gift for my best pals, to find an inspiring way to tackle the dozen ripe heirloom tomatoes on my kitchen table, and perhaps to indulge my urge for a snack, too. When I wander back outside to quickly snap up a few grocery staples from Maryhill Organic anda half-peck of honeycrisps from Brantview Apple Farm, I make a mental note to grabone of the vibrant, oddly-shaped pumpkins from Duurzame Growers on my way home. I stop to chat with the folks at The Seed: a non- profit run under the umbrella of the Guelph Community Health Centre that makes good, healthy food accessible to our community. I’m familiar with their Souper Heroes fundraiser and grocery program, but their booth at the market is relatively new, offering a range of locally-sourced produce and pantry items througha pay-what-you-can model. I wander down to La Brehandaise Market to ogle the french pastries and, after sinking my teeth into a croissant – necessary brain food – I have the brilliant, buttery idea to make a tomato galette. 

I head inside to Sweet Cheeses and chat with Heather while nibbling on samples of a crumbly, funky goat’s cheddar from Gunn’s Hill. I pitch her my galette idea and she presents me with a chevre from River’s Edge
– exactly what I was looking for. (Pro tip: visit Sweet Cheeses at the Market’s new Thursday evening session for their baguette + brie deal, then stop by Two Faces on Wilson Street for a glass of wine and an hour of pretending you’re in Paris, complete with the distant coos of pigeons.)

I wander down the line and scoop up a mishmash of lovely things for my friends, who are eight months pregnant and moving house this weekend (oh boy). Gluten-free oatmeal raisin cookies from Fourfold Farms. A few jars of ready-to-cook porcini risotto from the notorious Mushroom Ladies, Patricia and Maria. 

A glorious shepherd’s pie from Fergie’s. I say hello to Melku at Laza and grab a couple bottles of hibiscus tea, too. And, finally, I select an enchanting merlot-hued mum from my friend Nicole at Heritage House Farms (plus a dozen eggs and a jar of the best strawberry jam, for my own schemes). 

My bags are growing heavy, and I balance the pot of mums on my hip (practice, of course, for my soon-to- arrive nephew) and check the last few items off my list: a jar of the good stuff from Doug’s Honey, a mango jerk tofu burrito from Rodolfo’s Rebel Foods (yes, you saw them at Hillside and Riverfest), and a plant-based chipotle mayo from Daniel and Ryan at Grassroots. 

Before I head back outside, I stop at Gamble Farms and say hello to Kip, who always has a few minutes to chat about his favourite subject: microgreens. I graze on a few samples and settle on wasabi-mustard sprouts, then duck out into the back lot and grab my final prizes: the endearing pumpkin I had my eye on earlier, and a bundle of sunflowers from Janet and Ralph, the last booth before the exit. Though I generally take the long way home on mornings like these, today Iam overburdened with beautiful things, so, freighted with my plentiful treasures, I waddle the few short blocks home. 

The Guelph Farmers’ Market has seen plenty of changes since it was reinvented from an animal barn to a public market six decades ago – maybe even more so in the past few years as vendors navigated a changing climate and, most recently, when the market was co- opted by downtown-based community hub, 10C. If you haven’t been to the market in a few years, it’s worth a revisit. The crowds have calmed and the space has been reorganized to allow for more flow; gone are the single file days of the old farmers’ market. Blue-vested 10C staff are out and about, happy to answer your questions (and as someone who’s been coming for years, I still have a surprising number). Many businesses have addedcard payment to their previously cash-only offerings. And they’ve grown their social media presences – meaning you can take a peek at what’s being offered at the market before you even roll out of bed. 

You don’t need to go far to find exceptional food and beautiful gifts – they’re already here. In fact, they’re grown and crafted right here
in our region, and they’re waiting for you to discover them in the heart of the Royal City, every Saturday morning. See you there