Toronto's farmers' markets have come a long way in the past couple of years. Though they once amounted to little more than a few card tables set up on the lawn of a church, today's markets range from DIY meets in parking lots to lavish productions in enviro centres. With harpists. But which ones guarantee farm-fresh veggies, the finest in organics and real-deal dealers year round? Will the Fish Shak show up? And can you get there by streetcar or bike?
Here are the results of NOW's first-ever farmers' market score card. Shop locally, eat deliciously!
WHO: Appletree Market
WHERE: 200 Eglinton W, at Lascelles, 416-899-1990.
WHEN: Thursdays 3 to 7 pm year round.
WHAT: Hidden away behind the impressive community centre in Eglinton Park, this year-round market can be found along a winding path just down from the tennis courts. There, Greg's of Beamsville does brisk business in baskets of yellow and green string beans, Meaford's Scotch Mountain Meats offers hormone-free beef and pork, and Kawartha Ecological Growers features a full line of environmentally sound seasonal veggies and jams.
Once winter hits, the market moves indoors. Matchbox Gardens, ChocoSol, St. John's Bakery and Haystrom Farms, too. Rating: NNN
WHO: Green Barn Farmers' Market
WHERE: barn #5, 601 Christie, at Benson, 416-651-7867.
WHEN: Saturdays 8 am to 1 pm year round.
WHAT: Spectacularly located in the gorgeously refurbished Wychwood streetcar barns, the Stop Community Food Centre's weekly farmers' meet has quickly proven a runaway success, so much so that in its first summer season the locally focused market has surpassed both the Brick Works and Dufferin Grove in popularity.
And no wonder! Where else will you find Angelo's Country Meadows certified organic artisanal cheeses next to Evelyn's Crackers' and Toorshi's Armenian-style pickles? A few stalls over, Vicki's Veggies holds heirloom tomato tastings - love the Tigerella! - while ChocoSol deals in ethically sourced chocolate from Latin America. With the holidays nearly upon us, you want to pre-order your naturally raised turkey from Weber Farms or a pre-stuffed tofurkey from Ying Ying Soy. Stop by St. John's Bakery for the fabulous sourdoughs, Scratch Kitchen for gluten-free pastries and Farm Fresh Pasta for noodles made from Red Fife flour. Monckton Organic Farm and Bakery, Round Plains Plantation, the Cutting Veg, Plan B Organics, Woolerdale, Highmark, Sosnicki, and Stoddard Farms, too.
And don't forget to grab a Caribbean-style grilled pickerel sandwich from Fish Shak, take in a game of beach volleyball and a romp in the dog compound before picking up your wheels at the valet bike parking. Better yet, come November, the year-round market moves indoors into Artscape's dramatically reclaimed Barn #2. Rating: NNNNN
North York Civic Centre Farmers' Market Mel Lastman Square, 5100 Yonge, at Hillcrest. Thursdays 6 am to 2 pm till Oct 29.
WHO: Bloor Borden Farmers' Market
WHERE: Borden, at Bloor W, 416-531-0921.
WHEN: Wednesdays 3 to 7 pm till Oct 28.
WHAT: Now in its second year, this weekly gathering in the municipal parking lot behind Lee's Palace is one of five area meets certified by Farmers Markets Ontario (FMO). That means that all participants are verified farmers selling only what they produce. Resellers are verboten.
See the difference at Owen Sound's Marvelous Edibles Farm, where Swiss chard, kale and beets are currently in season, at Kind Organics for edible flowers and micro-greens, and at Waterford's OK Farms for root veg and apple cider.
Stop by Orangeville's Speers Farms' mobile kitchen for tortillas topped with naturally raised Angus beef and grilled onions before moseying over to the "rest tent" for a set by a bluegrass combo. Doug's Honey, Monckton Organic Bakery, Bosco, Bizjak, Godelie, Danbrie, VanHart and Collins Farms, too. Rating: NNN
WHO: Farmer's Organic Market
WHERE: 205 John, at Stephanie, 647-226-2418.
WHEN: Saturdays 9 am to 3 pm year round.
WHAT: Note the spelling. For the moment, local organic farmer Phil Mathewson is the sole participant in Toronto's longest-running - 20 years! - organic market. Rain or shine, you'll find him set up at a few tables on the lawn in front of St. George the Martyr Church at the south end of Grange Park.
Once winter sets in, he moves into the historic church's foyer. It's certainly not one-stop shopping, like Green Barn or St. Lawrence. Instead, expect a narrow but deep range of home-grown veggies - gargantuan cauliflower, Brussels sprouts by the stalk, tomatoes galore - as well as free-range eggs and straight-from-the-stream wild fish. Rating: NNN
WHO: Hospital for Sick Children Farmers' Market
WHERE: 555 University, at Elm, 647-274-8311.
WHEN: Tuesdays 9 am to 2 pm till Oct 27.
WHAT: Just down the boulevard from Queen's Park and set up next to the historic plaque dedicated to Toronto-born America's Sweetheart Mary Pickford - the Jessica Simpson of the silent era - this certified FMO meet may not have many vendors, but the booths are twice as big as most others.
Andrew's Scenic Acres trucks in the last of the summer's strawberries, corn on the cob and fresh-cut flowers from Milton, while it's gourds a-go-go at Haystrom Farm of Prince Edward County. If heirloom and oddly shaped baby veggies are your thing, head straight for Collins Farm of fabulous Flamborough. Leitch's Honey, Bosco, Loffredo, and OK Farms, too. Rating: NNN
WHO: Riverdale Farms Farmers' Market
WHERE: Winchester, at Sumach, 416-961-8787.
WHEN: Tuesdays 3 to 7 pm till Oct 27.
WHAT: A short walk up from the Gerrard streetcar, this bucolic Cabbagetown meet in West Riverdale Park has long been downtown's swankiest. Perhaps it's the multi-million-dollar manses, the nannies pushing strollers and the standard poodles on leashes that make us feel out of place, but the varied lineup of vendors taking part is worth any perceived discomfort.
Rolling Hills Organics seems to be the choice for certified salad greens and grass-fed Dexter beef, while Akiwenzie's Fish keeps the local gentry stocked with smoked lake trout. Goodwood's Fun Guy provides the 'shrooms, crackers and Kombucha tea. Don't forget to pop by Surkul for an Argentine empanada before dropping your Henckels off at Exact Edge for a sharpening. Bee's Universe, Forbes Wild Foods, BestBaa, St. John's Bakery, ChocoSol, Fish Shak, Country Meadows, Millbank Creamery, and Quinte Organic Farmers Collective, too. Rating: NNNN
WHO: St Andrews Farmers' Market
WHERE: Adelaide W, at Maud, 647-274-8311.
WHEN: Saturdays 9 am to 1 pm till October 31.
WHAT: Downtown's newest certified FMO is also one of its smallest. Sadly encamped on a fenced-in parking lot instead of the lovely park next door, this first-year start-up is still finding its feet.
Loffredo's is a definite don't-miss for old-school fruit pies, while Waterford's Bosco Farms and Innerkips's Thames River Melons offer a full lineup of locally grown veg. Berkeley's Monckton Organic Farms and Bakery not only grinds the grain it grows to bake its bread but retails it as well. Kind Organics, Godelie Family and OK Farms, too. Rating: NN
WHO: St Lawrence Farmers' Market
WHERE: 92 Front E, at Jarvis, 416-392-7120.
WHEN: Saturdays 5 am to 5 pm year round.
WHAT: Toronto's longest-running farmers' market, the Saturday meet in St. Lawrence's northern annex is a weekend ritual for many well-heeled downtowners. The crowds prove it. Unless you show up really, really early - like before 7 am - you'll have to fight your way through the hall's narrow aisles past the folk-singers and rubberneckers to get the best bounty.
Find it at Second Wind Elk, where preservative-free elk tortiere sells alongside wild boar and Muscovy ducks. Hunter Farms draws the adventurous for emu and ostrich. No trip to St. Lawrence is complete without stops at Alice's Pies for cabbage rolls and pierogi or Oodles of Strudel for old-school German pastries. And don't miss Wayne's Meats for curried goat, and Gaucho for spicy chorizo and antipasti. Grainfields Bakery, Norma's Edible Flowers, BestBaa, Rowe Meats, Clements Orchards, Round Plains Plantation, too. Rating: NNNN
Distillery District Farmers' Market 55 Mill, at Trinity. Sundays 10 am to 5 pm till mid-Oct.
Metro Hall Farmers' Market 55 John, at Wellington W, 416-338-0338. Thursdays 8 am to 2 pm till Oct 15.
Nathan Phillips Square Farmers' Market 100 Queen W, at Bay, 416-338-0338. Wednesdays 8 am to 2:30 pm till Oct 14.
WHO: Brick Works Farmers' Market
WHERE: 550 Bayview, south of Pottery Rd, 416-596-1495.
WHEN: Saturdays 8 am to 1 pm till Oct 31.
WHAT: There's no question that eco-agency Evergreen's revitalization of this once-dilapidated Don Valley brick factory is a major achievement. Shame the same can't be said of its weekly farmers' market. Like some enviro theme park, the bucolic complex seems planned more for family fun à la Ontario Place than for weekly grocery shopping.
In amongst the face painters, stilt-walkers, dog paraders, bike decorators and radical reflexologists, you'll find food-oriented attractions like Merchants of Green Coffee, Bee's Universe and the Quinte Organic Farmers Collective. Serious foodies flock to Cookstown Greens for restaurant-quality veggies, Riverside Foods for butter tarts, and Kozlick's for outrageously hot mustard. Scotch Mountain Meats, McCutcheon's Maple Syrup, St. John's Bakery, Greenfield Organics, Rolling Hills, Haystrom and Sosnicki Farms, too.
The site is a nightmare to get to except by half-hourly TTC and shuttle buses. Even with a car, you end up parked half a mile away beside an especially bike-unfriendly freeway. And if you are on a bike, stay off the "nature trails" and stick to the bike path unless you want to get lost up a ravine. Rating: NNN
WHO: East Lynn Park Farmers' Market
WHERE: 1949 Danforth, at East Lynn, 416-396-4864.
WHEN: Thursdays 3 to 7 pm till Oct 29.
WHAT: Now finishing up its second season, this FMO-certified gathering in a park close to the Woodbine subway station is a welcome addition to the east side. St. Catharines' Loffredo Farms sells Ontario peaches by the quart, baked into pies and canned as preserves, while Smithville on the escarpment's Lincoln Line Orchards deals in more than a dozen types of apples and as many byproducts, including apple cider vinegar.
A couple of tents over, Godelie Family Farm of Otterville specializes in spuds, and Peterborough Buffalo Farms of, er, Peterborough honours the peripatetic critters by transforming them into sausages, pepperettes and tortiere. Big date coming up? Drop by Sugarmoon Salon for a full-body sugaring and exfoliation. Kind, Monckton and Belanger Organics; Sovereign, Danbrie, Collins, Bosco, and OK Farms, too. Rating: NNN
WHO: Withrow Park Farmers' Market
WHERE: Fenwick, at McConnell.
WHEN: Saturdays 9 am to 1 pm till Oct 31.
WHAT: Call this busy weekend meet the alternative Taste of the Danforth. Though you'll have to go elsewhere for souvlaki or mousaka, here, under a canvas of shade trees next to a soccer field, Small Potatoes specializes in spuds of all sizes, Feast of Fields has the lock on sustainable fruit while the ubiquitous Sosnicki Organic Farms deals in heirloom tomatoes, garlic and arugula.
Don't forget to stop by Henna Planet for a quick rinse and the Riverdale Historic Society for a chin-wag. Bee's Universe, Clover Roads Organic Farms, St. John's Bakery, Millbank Creamery, Haystrom Farms and Preston Empanadas, too. Rating: NNN
Birchcliff Village Farmers' Market 1512 Kingston Rd, at Manderley, 416-686-6528. Fridays 3 to 7 pm till Oct 16.
East York Farmers Market East York Civic Centre, 850 Coxwell, at Mortimer. Tuesdays 9 am to 2 pm till Nov 3.
Guildwood Village Farmers' Market 121 Livingstone, at Guildwood Pkwy. Thursdays 2 to 6 pm till Oct 15.
WHO: Dufferin Grove Park Farmers' Market
WHERE: 875 Dufferin, at Bloor W, 416-392-0913.
WHEN: Thursdays 3 to 7 pm year round.
WHAT: Though it wasn't Toronto's first organic market, this community-minded meet was the first to bring organics into the mainstream. Now in its eighth year and far from slick, the year-round market spills across the park like a Gypsy caravan, even if it is across the road from Zellers.
Bestbaa's the spot for lamb chops and sheep's milk yogurt and cheeses, Alli's Bakery is renowned for its cheesy Jalapeño Screamers, and Sosnicki Farms turns its produce into sauerkraut, perogies and cabbage rolls. St John's Bakery, Clements Crepes, Fish Shak, Plan B Organics and Fun Guy Mushrooms, too. Come winter, the market moves into the park's rink house. Where else can you buy zucchini next to a Zamboni? Rating: NNNN
WHO: Liberty Village Farmers' Market
WHERE: Liberty, at Atlantic, 647-274-8311.
WHEN: Sundays 9 am to 2 pm till Nov 1.
WHAT: Surrounded by condos and loft conversions, this FMO-certified market is just completing its third successful season. There, in the Green P parking lot across from soccer-mad Lamport Stadium, head to Beamsville's Bizjak Farms for peaches, apricots and cherries and Round Plains Plantation for all things sweet potato.
In a similar vein, Danbrie Farms is your source for maple syrup, while Leitch's Honey is the place to find the golden nectar made in its more than 300 hives. Scotch Mountain Meats gets the nod for open-pastured beef and pork, while VanHart Farms prides itself on its pesticide-free tomatoes. Loffredo Fruit, Thames River Melons, Monckton Organic Bakery, Kind Organics, Haystrom and OK Farms, too. Rating: NNN
WHO: Sorauren Farmers' Market
WHERE: Sorauren, at Wabash.
WHEN: Mondays 3 to 7 pm till Oct 26.
WHAT: Located in a park reclaimed from a junkyard, this sophomore market could almost be a mini-Renaissance Fayre, complete as it is with rustic types in jerkins and a medieval harpist. Clover Roads Organic Farms goes the old-fashioned route as well by hand-harvesting its veggies and cut flowers, while Forbes Wild Foods forages for its hedgehog mushrooms, milkweed pods and spruce tips.
Look to Kawartha's Field Sparrow Farms for naturally raised Angus beef, and Roncesvalles gourmet shop Mabel's stand for organic fruit pies and artisanal cheeses. The Cutting Veg, Matchbox Gardens, Fish Shak, Preston Empanadas and Plan B Organics, too. Rating: NNN
WHO: Trinity Bellwoods Farmers' Market
WHERE: 1053 Dundas W, at Crawford, 416-350-9694.
WHEN: Tuesdays 3 to 7 pm till Oct 27.
WHAT: Tucked away in the park's most north-western corner next to a bust of baseball great Simon Bolivar, this two-year-old grassroots gathering is certainly one of the most eclectic in town.
On the produce front, Matchbox Garden & Seed carries a full range of seasonal veg as well as the seeds to grow them, as does Lorenz Eppinger's Greenfields Organic Farm. Self-styled "harvester of local, wild and surplus foods" Dael Wilson's Oso Leo gets raves for his cherry-apple cider and Holy Mole salsa. Millbank Creamery's the tent for organic cheeses, and Twin Creeks Organic Farm's the home of certified grass-fed beef. Bee's Universe, Forbes Wild Foods and St. John's Bakery, too. Rating: NNN
Square One Farmers' Market 100 City Centre, at Hwy 10, 416-252-3967. Fridays 8 am to 8 pm, Sundays 9 am to 6 pm till Nov 1.
Weston Village Farmers' Market 16 John, at Weston, 416-249-0691. Saturdays 7 am to 2 pm till Oct 31.