The Fall Harvest Series – Bringing Home Kale, Sunflower Sprouts, Sauces & More From the Junction Farmers Market!

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I am smitten.  Absolutely smitten.  I think my visit to the Junction Farmers Market this past Saturday morning was, hands down, my favourite market visit of the season!  It was such a rewarding experience, I had SO much fun, and by the end of it, I walked away with bags of goodies to take home.  It made me so happy and that’s saying a lot considering I was in a very foul mood about 2 hours prior!  Tthe bus I had originally planned on catching never showed up so that set me back a whole half hour.  I was not a happy camper at 7 in the morning.  But then I arrived at the market (when I finally did) and all the frustration and mumbling and grumbling went *POOF!* as I hopped from vendor to vendor in sheer joy.  Pumpkins!  Squash!  Apples!  Kale!  Tomatoes!  Sauces and dips!  FOOOOD!  The whole market was in full-swing fall mode with bushels of apples and pears by the vendors, delicious samples of apple cider, and tables overflowing with orange and golden yellow pumpkins, squashes, and tomatoes.

I couldn’t believe how amazing the market was on Saturday.  I know it sounds kind of weird given how this visit wasn’t my first but let’s face it, the market is in the middle of a parking lot and not exactly surrounded by daisies.  But by golly is it ever a goldmine of brilliant colour, lush fruits and vegetables, savoury nibbles, sweet baked goods, and scrumptious dips and sauces!  The Junction market has grown so much since its debut back in June.  It has grown steadily and organically with the enthusiasm of the community in its corner and I’m so proud of what this market has accomplished in just a matter of a few short months.  This is the Junction market’s first fall season and it’s an exciting time.

I am going to be so sad though when it packs up for the season in a week and a half on the 13th because I really feel like I can do grocery shopping at the Junction market as opposed to just being a passionate market goer and passerby.  I’m going to try my best to get in one last visit before it waves goodbye because it’s just that wonderful.  And I know other people in the commnity feel the exact same way because there were crowds lining up for bread and baked goods from De La Terre, there were discussions about kale left and right, and there was even an eager morning market shopper who came by Eugora’s Fine Foods and asked for 20 veggie samosas!

The selection of food was fantastic and there was a great balance between take-home groceries (fruits, vegetables, sauces, preserves, and pantry items) and “enjoy right away” food like sweet baked goods and bread from De La Terre, vegetarian samosas from Eudora’s Fine Foods, and Hogtown Charcuterie ‘s meats, savoury puff pastries and tarts, empanadas, scotch quail eggs and more!  For the first time, I felt like I was actually bogged down with food goodies and groceries!

I bought 4 vegetarian samosas (I know, it pales in comparison to the 20 the other lady snatched up!) and a jar of fresh, fruity, and flavourful mango chutney from Eudora’s Fine Foods, a container of delicious pesto the colour of freshly cut grass, sunflower sprouts from Fresh City Farms, and two of the biggest, fluffiest, most beautiful bunches of curly kale I had ever seen from Sosnicki Organics.  I was thisclose to buying more vegetables and picking up cheese too!  I’ve never shopped a market like this before and it felt terrific because I knew the food was incredibly fresh, I knew I was going to put the food to good use (dinner for me and the family!), and I knew it was money well spent.

I left the Junction market in such high spirits and I think that’s exactly how every farmers’ market should make everyone feel: welcome, loved, more knowledgable, and most importantly, excited for more.  It’s not every day you find your holy grail foods.  When you find a producer, farmer, and/or food shop that you love, you go back to them time and time again because you trust their passion, their integrity, and the greatness of their food.  It’s exactly how I felt when I came home with my beautiful bag of assorted kale from Samsara Fields the other week when I went to Crème Fraîche and I felt (and tasted!) it again when I lugged my giant bag of curly kale home from the Junction market.  The possibilities for wonderful food at the market are endless and I can only hope that one day this market will be a year-round one so I can enjoy it well past October.

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The Junction farmers’ market will be held every Saturday from 8:30am-12:30pm, June 2nd to October 13th.  The farmers’ market is located in the parking lot just off of Dundas Street West and Pacific Ave.  The market is brand new to Toronto and the Junction community, so spread the word, come out, and show your support!  For more info and a list of vendors, visit the official Junction market page HERE.

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Lunch Just Became A Whole Lot More Delicious Downtown – Lunchtime Office Markets at ING Direct Cafe!

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The dining selections for lunch in the downtown core just became a whole lot more mouthwatering: a new lunchtime market has made its way into the heart of downtown Toronto and they’re serving up hot and fresh, local food that’s ready to eat!  The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives are expanding beyond their Centre for Social Innovation roots and settling into the hustle and bustle of one of Toronto’s busiest neighbourhoods.  With Yonge-Dundas Square to the north, Eaton Centre to the west, Ryerson University to the east, and the financial district to the south, the newest market location has taken residence at the corner of Yonge and Shuter Street, right inside the new ING Direct Cafe.  The ING Direct Cafe is a special, multi-purpose retail space that functions as an innovative financial and banking space, a community space, and a kitchen space all in one.   

In a nutshell, ING Direct is a Canadian banking and financial institution whose mandate is to provide its clients with financial services and products that are innovative, low-cost, convenient, and in tune with current technologies.  The ING Direct Cafe is one of its newest innovations and its goal is to bring community groups and local businesses together, and to present residents in the area with an open-concept banking space to make financial decisions, to learn more about financial alternatives, and to contribute to local charities and causes through partnerships and cafe sales.  In addition, all cafes have free wi-fi and mobile devices that allow anyone and everyone to test out new products, and do online and mobile banking on the go.

The partnership between ING Direct and the Lunchtime Office Markets makes so much sense because they possess many of the same values and goals.  The Lunchtime Office Markets are expanding to accomodate the growing need for healthy, affordable food options in and around working environments.  Let’s face it: not everyone brings a lunch to work.  Call it personal preference, call it a lack of resources in the work environment (a lack of refridgerator, microwave, or food storage); either way, many purchase their lunch in and around their place of work.  Often, workers are either faced with unhealthy options, unaffordable options, a combination of both, or no options at all.  Thus, the premise behind the Lunchtime Office Market is to fill a void and to provide choices for those who otherwise may not have any. 

How do the office markets base their decision on where to locate?  Let’s be clear about one thing: a worthy working environment is not defined by the number of high-rolling business executives that exist in the area.  The office markets were a pilot project that began in October 2011 at both Centre for Social Innovation locations to gauge the level of interest and response to this new food and farmers’ market model.  Since, the market has taken on a life of its own and has started expanding.  

However, the goal has remained the same: to provide neighbourhoods and institutions with good, wholesome food.  The office markets want to target high-traffic areas, schools, office buildings, and many others that have a dispropriate percentage of people who may lack the resources or the time to get their hands on good food.  The newest location at Yonge & Shuter targets college and university students who need affordable, healthy options, retail workers in and around the area who want a fresh change from the food court selection, and office workers who need something quick and convenient (trying to nab an elevator from the 25th floor during the busy lunch hour could take 10 minutes in and of itself!).

This past Thursday, the market rolled out its first big appearance at its new location at 11:30am and it did not disappoint!  We had Sara’s fresh baked bread from Nice Buns; Earth & City’s savoury raw, vegan delights; vegan dips and organic edible hummus bowls from Luscious Dips; savoury pies and pastries from Yorkton Pies; seafood, samples, and oysters from Hooked; tortillas and raw chocolate from Chocosol; market fruits and vegetables from Fresh City Farms; and Augie’s gourmet soups and stews. 

I was ready to roll for lunch and with camera in hand, I captured many of the delicious eats available for lunch that day.  Augie’s table had jars and jars of premade soup and stew to go (great for reheating at home!) along with a lunch menu of roast parsnip, beet, and green apple soup, and a hearty Ontario pork and beef winter stew over sticky rice.  Fresh City Farms brought bright colour with their crates of oranges, apples, pears, onions, potatoes, kale, tomatoes, shallots, carrots, cranberries, and cauliflower, and Hooked brought the sea with them with a fabulous assortment of packaged seafood, samples, shucked oysters (a buck a shuck!), and a steaming pot of fresh seafood chowder.

Sara’s table was overflowing with her mouthwatering cocoa sourdough buns, herb n’ onion fougasse, fluffy white bread buns, apple walnut cinnamon buns, carrot cake slices with chocolate chips, and gluten-free focaccia, while Jesse had a vibrant display of her edible veggie hummus bowls and vegan hummus dips.  Finally, Eric’s Yorktown Pie Company had trays of the most adorable golden mini pies and pastries, and Cassandra and Lisa’s Earth & City had a beautiful, colourful array of their famous spring roll wraps, nut n’ seed burgers, and flatbread sandwiches and bundles.

What did I end up enjoying for lunch?  You’ll just have to sit tight and wait for those goods tomorrow 😉

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The Lunchtime Office Markets by Alimentary Initiatives take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The markets are from 11:30am-1:30pm and the newest market is located at the ING Direct Cafe at 221 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge & Shuter across the street from the Eaton Centre every Thursday.

Bringing Fresh & Organic to Urban Cityscapes – Boardwalk Chocolates’ Vegan Truffles & Fresh City Farms

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Welcome to Part II of “Fresh Faces at the CSI Lunchtime Markets”!  Since I started posting about these markets back in October, I’ve shown you guys lots of photos of Earth & City‘s fabuous vegan food and yesterday I focused exclusively on the bread and baked goods made by Sara of Nice Buns.  Today I’m sharing with all you two new faces who joined the foodie team at the CSI markets several weeks ago: Fresh City Farms and Boardwalk Chocolates!  Both Fresh City and Boardwalk are local, homegrown Toronto businesses bringing fresh produce and vegan chocolates to the lives of Torontoians and beyond. 

Fresh City Farms is a program, initiative, and urban farming business that operates right in Toronto and their mission is to bring fresh produce, food knowledge, and awareness to urban farming practices and social food policy.  The very first time I learned of Fresh City Farms was actually during the summer at the University of Toronto farmers’ market at the St. George campus.     

What’s significant about Fresh City’s enterprise is their mission and their goals.  Let’s face it, many of us have grown up in urban environments that are far removed from the processes of food production and manufacturing.  It isn’t uncommon for people to go through their whole lives not knowing where their food comes from, how it was grown, who was involved in the process of food growth and creation, and all the other facets of production.  There is so much that goes into every bite of food we eat every day and whether our lack of knowledge is a result of a lack of learning opportunities, awareness, or open discussion, it’s an issue that many food producers and policy makers are attempting to remedy. 

This is where Fresh City Farms situates itself.  It functions as a local food business, providing fresh, sustainable, and organic produce and food products to the greater city of Toronto through its Fresh City box initiative.  Its mission is to provide the knowledge, tools, and connections to those who wish to engage in urban farming practices right in their own backyards or local neighbourhoods but can’t because of infrastructural issues or lack of resources.  

Their initiative is to bring awareness to Toronto’s foodways and policies, encouraging everyone to learn more about how they can make a difference in their diets, their environmental impact, and the ways in which food is cultivated.  The whole premise behind this mission is that the more connected we are to our avenues of food, the more we engage and learn about social life and the environments and resources that surround us.

Fresh City Farms holds the same belief as I do: that food is not just food; it’s a learning experience and a creative work constantly in progress.  Food is about labour, the environment, creativity, family, survival, relationships, and so much more.  Fresh City, along with Earth & City, Chocosol, and a host of other CSI Lunchtime Market team members, are guided by these same beliefs and values.

On this particular day, Fresh City Farms had wooden crates bursting with bright orange carrots, onions, potatoes, garlic bulbs, mushrooms, red cabbage, yams, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, fresh herbs, apples, pomegrantes, oranges, and blueberries.  Even though I was the first one to show up to the market that day (what can I say?  I’m a eager beaver), it quickly became busy with people buying bowls of pumpkin butternut squash soup from Cassandra’s Earth & City table (a first for Earth & City according to Cassandra!), nabbing some of Sara’s apple cinnamon walnut buns and bread, and grabbing bags of potatoes and other vegetables left and right.  Had I not been there right when the market started, I would have had one mighty difficult time taking photos!   

To add even more sweetness to the vegan delight mix, Siue Moffat and her Boardwalk Chocolates were there to lend a decadent vegan, gluten-free, and organic chocolate hand!  Boardwalk Chocolates is a chocolate truffle and candy confection business located in the Annex in Panacea Eco Shop just off of Bloor and Bathurst, and is the Great White North’s only vegan and gluten-free chocolate truffle company!  Siue and her chocolatey, fair trade, vegan creations can be found and enjoyed at different markets and events in town (check out their website for a listing of events and appearances) and this just in, now also at Sadie’s Juice Bar (Sadie’s Diner’s sister) in Kensington Market! 

The flavours of chocolate truffles alone will have you tripping over yourself.  We’re talking key lime pie, gingerbread caramel, banana split, lavender chestnut, almond orange, peanut butter cloud, sesame and banana with orange blossom water, and many more.  The truffles come in boxes of 4 ($5.50) with four different flavours in each (each box contains a different flavour collection, such a nut one, a dessert inspired one, and others) and at the market, they were also available individually for $2 a piece.  I honestly couldn’t believe what good prices the chocolates were.  All the truffles I’ve come across at other confectioners have been on the pricier side and although $2 is pretty average for a single truffle, $5.50 for a box of 4 is just fabulous.  I wish I had bought some that day, but alas, I didn’t and am totally kicking myself for it.  I am definitely planning on snatching some up for the holidays though! 

Boardwalk Chocolates also sells solid chocolate pieces, vintage chocolate molds of 60s inspired objects, and chocolate bark.  In addition to the sweet vegan delights, Siue also sells a zine version of her vegan dessert cookbooks, Lickin the Beaters 2: Vegan Chocolate and Candy!  I know many of you are huuuge fans of zines and vegan baking and desserts so I wanted to pass that along for those of you who might be interested in checking out the scrumptious literature! 

I’ll be really sad to see the market eventually come to an end and I hope the markets will continue on in some form in the new year because they’re so much fun and of course, delicious!  It’s amazing what you can learn just be going and I’m so happy to pass along everything I see and discover onto all of you.  It’s all about options and accessibility and it’s wonderful knowing that we have people in the city who genuinely love food in all its forms and who share their passion and creativity with the rest of us. 

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The Lunctime Markets at the Centre for Social Innovation in the Annex and on Spadina take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays respectively from 11:30am-1pm.  The Centre for Social Innovation (Annex) is located at 720 Bathurst Street, just south of Bloor Street West and Lennox.  They also have a location on Spadina at 215 Spadina Ave., 4th floor.