Farmers’ markets in Oakridge Park and Fairmount Park contributing to health and wellness of community

Jennifer Forde (second from right) is the founder of the Courtyard and Scarborough Farmers’ Markets, She is seen with vendors at the Scarborough Farmers' Market at Oakridges Park recently. Inset photos show a number of the vendors at the market. Photos by Erin Horrocks-Pope.

By QITING WANG

Jennifer Forde, the founder of the Courtyard and Scarborough Farmers’ Markets, is leading the charge to provide nutritious food to east-end communities.

Forde wants to not only help farmers and vendors develop their brand but aims “to work with diverse communities that reflect the communities and neighbourhoods we serve in the spirit of community health and wellness.”

The Scarborough Farmers’ Market started in 2018 with the launch of the Malvern Farmers’ Market in northeast Scarborough. The goal was to bring nutrient-dense, fairly priced, culturally appropriate fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lifestyle products to the area.

The vendors were family-owned farms, women-led enterprises and ethno-cultural businesses that represent the diversity and richness of Toronto. Items for sale included fresh vegetables, fruits and meats, prepared foods like homemade samosas and baked goods, and organic handmade products such as soy candles.

Since 2019, Forde has been collaborating with Marina Queirolo, founder and steward of Market City TO.  Marina has 20 years’ experience in public markets, first as a vendor, then a market manager of Evergreen Brick Works, and now a researcher and advocate for public markets.

“Markets are the engine for inclusive economic development and great at supporting local food, as such we need to not only protect markets, but also increase residents understanding about the importance supporting neighbourhoods markets,” said Queirolo.

Due to the way large grocery stores rely on global supply chains Toronto has only three days’ worth of food, she said.

Toronto has more than 100 diverse public markets, and Queirolo collaborates with market managers, like Forde, policy makers and researchers to rebuild the mid-size food distribution infrastructure anchored in local farmers and food entrepreneurs.

This season, they are launching two programs that support a market model that is better suited to the Scarborough context. An aggregate table called the Ontario Fresh Food Table, aggregates 20 producers in one booth, bringing affordable Ontario produce, including organic offerings. With proper signage, the stand recognizes the providence of the ingredients and the farmers involved, including many urban growers that cannot produce enough to supply a single table for an entire season.

“We have many farmers of all different sizes and scales, but many urban growers don’t have the ability to be at a booth for the whole season because they don’t have enough production,” Queirolo said. “This table can make them worth it.”

The stand also provides employment to local residents, especially youth, interested in food production, marketing, and distribution. In addition, any unsold ingredients will be picked up by the partnered local food bank to ensure nothing is wasted.

For Forde, this aggregated table enables her to start markets in areas of need and provide a consistent supply of fresh ingredients at affordable prices to benefit customers and farmers who can focus on increasing their growing capacity.

The markets will also partner with local food banks and community agencies to launch a “market bucks” coupon program for families selected by the food bank who are currently experiencing food insecurity.

Selected families will receive $20 for a period of six weeks to purchase any kind of vegetables, fruit, eggs, herbs or honey at the market fresh foods table.

While commerce is the main function of markets, they are also great community spaces. And market managers like Forde create welcoming public spaces where residents can enjoy themselves.

Forde has partners with the Toronto Public Library and the Department of Imaginary Affairs to offer biweekly market recipes and a curated reading series in the grass space at the markets from 4:30 to 5 p.m., and more activities are planned.

Forde encourages everyone to come and enjoy the market experience, meet new residents and vendors, and help build local networks and community relations.

The Courtyard Farmers’ Market at Fairmont Park (1757 Gerrard St. E.) is open on Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The Scarborough Farmers’ Market at Oakridge Park (3459 Danforth Ave.) is open on Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Both markets are open until the first week of October.


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