There are times that I’m truly surprised that it took so long for farmer’s market culture to permanently take root in the Strait area.
After all, agriculture is a huge part of our daily lives, particularly in Inverness and Antigonish counties. And even those of us who have never “watched the field behind the plow,” as Stan Rogers used to sing, love our fresh vegetables and other farm products.
And yet, apart from the wildly successful markets that now run several months a year in Mabou and Antigonish, it seems like the rest of our region has had a hit-and-miss record in terms of sliding into that sweet spot of timing, vendor diversity and loyalty, and overall community support.
But the tide may be finally turning.
The Coastal Arts and Culture Guild is in its second summer of operating a weekly artisans’ market at the St. Peter’s Lions’ Club Marina. It usually runs on Sundays, but in the true spirit of community cooperation, the guild took a breather this past weekend to allow a similar market to run without competition as part of the Festival Acadien de L’Ardoise.
Over in Arichat, the Isle Madame Public Market has picked up support from vendors, residents and visitors alike and now has a thriving operation, which runs every two Saturday mornings at the beautiful LeNoir Landing. The next Isle Madame Public Market takes place this coming Saturday, August 4, and continues until the first weekend of October.
And in the immediate Strait area, we’ve reached a point where two markets can run hours apart on the same day, only a 20-minute drive from each other, and complement each other without fragmenting either their audience or the pool of farmer’s market vendors.
In Port Hawkesbury, where community market efforts have experienced highs and lows in a variety of different locations over the past 10 years, the rebranded Ceilidh Market appears to have struck the right chord. Running in the main concourse of the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday, the Ceilidh Market got off to a great start in its first two weeks, with a colourful blend of long-time product suppliers and a handful of fresh new faces to draw an enthusiastic group of customers into the Civic Centre.
As a result, the venue arguably feels more like home than it has at any point in its 14-year history. Sometimes that happens entirely by accident.
During the second week of the Ceilidh Market, Cathy and I wound up in a lovely chat with the effervescent Martin Baumann, who runs Martin’s Fine Bakery out of Big Harbour Island with his wife Gabi, and Abdul Rajput, who has made the trek from Sydney for several years with his delicious array of Indian dishes under the Punjab Spices banner.
On this morning, we learned that these two culinary craftsmen also share a common history – as children, Martin and Abdul grew up only 40 kilometres away from each other, in different parts of Germany. And yet their first meeting took place only a few years ago, at an earlier Civic Centre market, in the same concourse where Cathy and I had Martin’s vegetarian pizza for lunch and ordered Punjab Spices samosas to take home for supper.
(I should point out that we washed down Martin’s pizza with a wonderful hot cup of java from one of the Ceilidh Market’s newcomers, Fire and Stone Coffee Roasters. St. Peter’s is lucky to have them, and we’re lucky to have them at the Ceilidh Market.)
But it wasn’t just Port Hawkesbury launching a new market this summer. Mulgrave’s Venus Cove Park is already proving to be a great setting for the market format, with a whack of people from all age groups descending on the venue for the first-ever Market at the Mulgrave Marina on July 19.
With the park’s natural outdoor setting and kid-friendly amenities combining with a colourful selection of local vendors (including a long-time favourite of ours, Guysborough County’s Cornect Family Farm), we were also glad to see food-truck culture making its way to Mulgrave and enjoyed the lively music from the Venus Cove Park bandshell. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be playing on that bandshell for the first 45 minutes of the next Mulgrave market, which runs Thursday night from 6-9 p.m. Come anyway.)
Best of all: Both markets support each other, even to the point of putting plugs for the “sister market” on their respective social media pages.
As this cooperative spirit and family feeling colour our Strait area markets, we may be sowing more than seeds this summer – we might be about to reap the bountiful harvest of a growing community.