Image credit Sammy Tangir

March Highlights at the Farmers Market

Despite the promise of spring being felt in the air throughout the month of March, Ontario winters can be fickle.

Cold snaps and ground frosts throughout the month of March make sowing and planting an unavailable option usually until April.

But, as the saying goes, a farmer’s work is never done! While April may seem far away for many of us, the groundwork completed in March is essential for our farmers.

Seasonal Food

From nutty, ochre coloured winter squashes, to peppery endives and sweet, robust parsnips, much of this month’s food lends itself to roasted or slow cooked dishes.

These cooking methods accentuate the inherent sweetness of these items which has already been intensified by winter frosts, creating indulgent dishes which can help us hold on for one last month until winter is banished for another year!

Ingredient of the Month: Water

At a time in the season which is filled with both reflection on the past and planning for the season to come, it seems fitting to focus on an element which is perennially vital in our food systems, for farmers and consumers alike.

Although it might seem strange to class water as an ingredient, its presence, (or more importantly absence) can create several very different finished products from a single item.

Intentional drying is all well and good, yet increasingly farmers in Ontario are having to deal with low rainfall and long dry summers, which have the potential to seriously damage crops and limit their harvests. With most vegetables and fruit coming in at 80-95% water, it is clear that water is essential for plants, fields and farmers to thrive.

Weekly Themes

Saturday, March 4 | Soil, Seeds and Water

While farmers can’t change the amount of water falling on their fields, the way they treat their soils can create staggering differences in the amount of water held in the soil and made accessible to their crops.

All of our farmers are committed to either organic, biodynamic or ethical production methods of farming; by using techniques such as no till farming (which reduces evaporation) they can prevent water loss from the soil.

Similarly, by returning organic matter to the soil they can hugely increase the storage capacity of their soil (as a 1% increase in soil organic matter can increase the holding potential of an acre by 20,000 gallons!)

These techniques are essential in allowing our community to work with the land they have rather than fighting it, and ensuring that by reducing topsoil erosion and through-flow that they can continue to provide consistent harvests year after year while minimising damage to the environment.

Another way our farmers minimise water use is by growing native and heirloom crops, suited for the local climate.

At our Seedy Sunday & CSA Fair on March 5th, you can learn about many of these species & how they are being curated, salvaged and stored to ensure their existence for future generations, or exchange your own seeds with other urban gardeners through the Seed Exchange!

Saturday, March 11 | Growing in Water

Even with traditional farmers doing all they can to reduce wastage of water on their fields, working in an open system means that waste is inevitable, whether in water, energy or nutrients.

This reality has led to a frame shift amongst agro-pioneers seeking to grow nutritious, healthy food in the leanest and most efficient way possible. Amongst those at the leading edge are Ripple Aquaponics, one of our on-site partners.

Their cutting-edge setup employs a soil-less closed-loop system, using fish faeces to nourish plants that essentially recycle back into fish tanks. This technique uses only 3% of water used in traditional farming and has been found to be 97% efficient!

The guys from Ripple Aquaponics will be at the market this week, showcasing their design and discussing their approach to super-efficient urban agriculture.

Saturday, March 18 | Drying and Dehydrating

For 14,000 years we have been altering the water content of our harvested crops, primarily through drying, to create a whole range of easily stored, long lasting products.

The changes caused by simple dehydration can change the tart, tangy taste of apples, pears and plums into delicious sweet treats, as shown by Niagara Try Dry. Using nothing but a light lemon juice wash to help retain the vibrant colours of their fruits, these dried fruits are additive free.

You can also grab some of their fruit leather. Specially formulated by Barry and Kathy, pureed fruit mixes are left to dry into chewy ‘leather,’ offering another fun way to enjoy dried fruits.

Drying is also great for creating tasty savoury snacks too - check out Kind Organics on Saturdays at the Farmers Market, who are the proud purveyors of delicious Kale Chips.

Saturday, March 25 | From Maple Water to Maple Syrup

Did you know that it takes over 40 gallons of Maple sap to create one gallon of Maple Syrup? A Maple tree will give up around 7% of its sap each summer (around 10-20 gallons per season).

Following techniques pioneered by the Ojibway and Six Nations peoples, boiling the sap transforms refreshing and electrolyte rich maple water into molasses-like maple syrup, alive with vanilla, herb and spice tones.

As more water is evaporated, the syrup will lose its delicate notes and begin to gain increasingly stronger maple flavours, perfect for cooking or baking with.

Throughout the season we are lucky to have both McCutcheon's Maple Syrups and Forbes Wild Foods providing Maple Syrup to the Farmers Market. Using a reverse Osmosis system to reduce the water content of their Syrup, Forbes create syrup with 70% less energy than traditional boiling, making their No. 3 Dark Maple Syrup the ‘Ecoholic’ best pick for Toronto maple syrup in Now Magazine 2015.

You can also take the chance to try maple sap in its raw form, courtesy of Grassroot Organics, who are back at the market this week, or head on over to the Sipping Container to pick up some refreshing Sapsucker Maple Water.