There are about 175 farmers' markets across Ontario, from the large, year-round markets to the informal seasonal variety, such as this one on the waterfront in Wiarton. The craving for fresh local food is here to stay, according to Robert Chorney, executive director of Farmers' Markets Ontario.

There's no better way to get to know a community
than to head on down to the local farmers' market

You can take a bus tour of all the hot spots, grab a beer in the newest pub or read the local newspaper. But if you really want to know what makes a community tick, drop by its farmers’ market.  

Take the Kingston Public Market for example. Established in 1801 — it is the oldest and longest-running in Ontario — the market is where area farmers gather behind historic City Hall three days a week to offer up their just-picked produce, piled high on tables in individual stalls protected from the elements by umbrellas. It’s here, where bright colours and inviting scents create a festive atmosphere, where farmers and locals share history, talk food and trade news and gossip, just as their ancestors did more than 200 years ago. If you hear a steady beat in the background, that’s the sound of this community’s heart.  

With local musicians to entertain, fresh-brewed coffee to sip and tasty homemade treats to eat while talking heirloom tomatoes and the new city budget, it feels just like a party around the kitchen table. There’s a sense of history here. A sense of belonging. It feels like home.  

Which is why farmers’ markets are the hub of Ontario’s oldest communities, many of them, not surprisingly, located on the waterfront, where their roots were firmly planted by those early pioneers and entrepreneurs.  

Little wonder that other towns and cities, and even neighbourhoods, many with a shorter history than Toronto and Ottawa and Belleville, are embracing the farmers’ market concept as a way to bring people together. BIAs, community groups, municipalities — everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, Ontario has gone from 60 farmers’ markets 20 years ago, to about 175 today. 

'They're a force to be reckoned with'

“There were 15 million shopper visits at farmers’ markets in Ontario last year. And sales exceeded $700 million,” Robert Chorney, executive director of Farmers’ Markets Ontario, tells “That’s an economic impact of more than $2 billion — they’re certainly a force to be reckoned with.”  

It hasn’t always been this way. While farmers’ markets grew across Ontario as others copied the Kingston model, growth came to a sputtering halt 30 years ago. According to Chorney’s group, which helps set up new farmers’ markets and spread the word about local food, the move away from downtown shopping to the suburban mall hampered growth beginning in the 1970s.  

Thanks to campaigns by the likes of Farmers’ Markets Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (which still has us singing “Good Things Grow-ho-ho in Ontario”), things started to change. Chorney credits the revival of farmers’ markets to a combination of a public clamouring for fresh local food, farmers eager to market directly to consumers and community groups wanting to get in on the action.  

“We were once a voice in the wilderness,” Chorney says. “Now, the eat local phenomenon is here to stay.”

While farmers’ markets are often featured on “things to do” list on tourism sites, their reason for being isn’t to attract visitors. They’re more about the local economy, Chorney says.  

Still, there’s no better way to feel like a local when out exploring the many communities that make up Ontario than to get up early and head down to the farmers’ market. We’ve compiled a list of markets that have been around for at least 100 years to get you started.  

Kingston Public Market
Established in 1801 Kingston  

Location: Springer Market Square, downtown, right behind historic City Hall  
Time of operation: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and statutory holidays April to November  

Located just a short stroll to the Lake Ontario waterfront, the market is the oldest and longest-running in Ontario. Offers locally grown produce and crafts by local artisans. Preference given to vendors who are growers, and vendors who live within a 100-km radius of the city of Kingston. On Sundays, come by for the antique market, which runs until mid-October, where some produce and crafts are also available. Springer Market Square features bistro tables and chairs and umbrellas so you can relax and soak in the historic atmosphere.    

St. Lawrence Farmers' Market
Established in 1803 Toronto
92 Front St. E., at Jarvis Street, downtown Toronto  
Time of operation: Saturday Year-round  

The market, which is spread over three main buildings, is a must-go destination for residents and visitors alike, with National Geographic recently naming St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market No. 1 on the list of world’s best food markets. The North Market is the original, built in 1803, and is known for its Saturday farmers’ market of seasonal produce and the Sunday antique market. (This building  — not the original — will soon be transformed into a modern four-storey glass structure with market space on the ground floor and courtroom and office space above)  The main and lower levels of the South Market contain more than 120 specialty vendors known for their fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, grains, baked goods and dairy products. The ground floor of St. Lawrence Hall, built in 1850, houses retail businesses, in case 120 market vendors isn’t enough shopping for you. This lively place is located a short walk to Queen’s Quay and the Lake Ontario waterfront.    

Belleville Farmers' Market
Established in 1816 Belleville

Location: Market Square, behind City Hall  
Time of operation: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday Year-round  

About: The indoor/outdoor market, located near the mouth of the Moira River and the Bay of Quinte, offers something local, fresh and unique year-round — from produce to meat and crafts. In summer, don’t be surprised if you find 50 varieties of tomatoes. You’ll even find locally roasted coffee. The market features more than 30 vendors.        

Ottawa ByWard Market
Established in 1830 Ottawa
Location: 55 ByWard Market Square, downtown  
Time of operation: Seven days a week Year-round  

ByWard Market is located in one of Ottawa’s most happening neighbourhoods, home to some of the best restaurants and night life. Located a short walk to the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River waterfront, the market boasts about 200 vendors and offers everything from local eggs to produce to bedding plants and crafts. ByWard Market was established by Col. John By, of Rideau Canal fame. Along with the food market and restaurants, you’ll also find galleries and boutiques in the Market, designed for pedestrian strolling.      

Cambridge Farmers' Market
Established in 1830 Cambridge
Location: 40 Dickson St., downtown  
Time of operation: Saturday (year-round) Wednesday (May to October)  

About: Located in a historic part of Cambridge, in the Galt section, with its Grand River waterfront and heritage bridges and converted mills, the market is a lively place. You’ll find vendors selling fresh meats, baked goods, cheese, maple syrup and honey, farm fresh eggs, ethnic foods and artisan crafts, along with local fruits and vegetables, including the ever-popular organic. All vendors come from within a 100-km radius of the market.      

Brockville Farmers' Market
Established in 1833 Brockville
Location: Downtown on Market Street West, just west of City Hall on King Street  
Time of operation: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday May to October  

About: Located a short stroll from the scenic St. Lawrence River, Brockville’s farmers’ market boasts everything from locally grown and produced squash to meats to cut flowers and heirloom berries. It’s a great place to shop for gifts, with hand-crafted jewelry, homemade furniture and local photographs all available. There’s also local baked goods on offer, great for a break by the water.      

Hamilton Farmers' Market
Established in 1837 Hamilton

Location: 35 York Blvd., next to Hamilton Public Library  
Time of operation: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday Year-round  

The market, originally located at the corner of York and James streets, has been at its current location since 1980 and is all indoors. The market, which features a restored 17-foot high Birks clock hanging at its centre, was revamped in 2011 and now boasts a community gathering place that has a warm, welcoming atmosphere. You’ll find a mix of quality, affordable local produce and culturally diverse products from nearly 70 vendors. There are also fresh foods prepared onsite, with a community kitchen for cooking demonstrations.      

Cobourg Farmers' Market
Established in 1839 Cobour
Location: Market Square, corner of Second and Albert streets, downtown  
Time of operation: Saturday May to December  

About: Administered by the Cobourg Farmers’ Market Association, this market is small but popular, and located right downtown a short stroll from the Lake Ontario marina boardwalk and beach. It’s a great place to not only find fresh local produce, but homemade sausages for your breakfast — or pie and cake if you like to start things off on the sweet side. There’s also crafts, flowers and other local goodies. In the chilly months, things move inside.      

Orillia Farmers' Market
Established in 1845 Orillia
Location: 50 Andrew St. S., downtown  
Time of operation: Saturday Year-round  

About: The historic market, established in 1845 just a short stroll away from Lake Couchiching at what would later become the main downtown intersection, was moved out of its home at West and Mississaga streets in 2009 to make way for the construction of a new library. The move two blocks away hasn’t changed much: the market is still a family-friendly place, with local musicians strutting their stuff while shoppers meet their favourite farmer. Fresh-picked local and county-grown produce, along with other local food and artisan products such as goats milk soap, are all on offer. There are also ready-to-eat treats in the market café.      

Owen Sound & District Farmers' Market
Established in 1845 Owen Sound  

Location: 114 8th St. E., downtown, beside City Hall  
Time of operation: Saturday Year-round  

About: Located near the scenic Sydenham River, this market is the place to go in the Owen Sound area for local products — fresh produce, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, baked goods, flowers and crafts. It’s also a friendly place to enjoy a Saturday morning cup of coffee and chat with friends, or meet new ones.          

Barrie Farmers' Market
Established in 1846 Barrie
Location: City Hall, Mulcaster and Collier streets, downtown  
Time of operation: Saturday Year-round  

About: Run by the Barrie Farmers' Market Vendors Association, the market is ideally located at City Hall near beautiful Kempenfelt Bay. The year-round market heads outdoors from May to October, so you can enjoy the sunshine. From heirloom tomato plants to homemade samosas and curries, you’ll find it all here, along with lots of  fun events and contests throughout the year.      

Brantford Farmers' Market
Established in 1847 Brantford
Location: 79 Icomm Dr., downtown, across from charity casino  
Time of operation: Friday, Saturday Year-round  

About: Located near the Grand River, the market is one of the oldest businesses in Brantford features products that reflect the ethnic mosaic of the community. Located at its current site since 1965, you’ll always find something new as the market evolves. Everything from nuts to chocolates to flowers — along with fresh produce, meats and baking —  can be found here. The market heads outdoors from May to October.      

Stratford Farmers' Market
Established in 1855 Stratford

Location: Agriplex, 353 McCarthy Rd.  
Time of operation: Saturday Year-round  

About: Located at the fairgrounds in the Rotary complex, the market boasts farm fresh vegetables, cheese, meats, baking, flowers and crafts. Just before Christmas, the place is filled with local handmade gifts, making it easy to get all your shopping done for the holidays. The Rotary complex is also home to bingo and the fall fair.        

Lindsay Farmers Market
Established in 1859 Lindsay
Location: Victoria Avenue, between Kent and Peel streets, downtown  
Time of operation: Saturday May to October  

About: The market, located in Kawartha Lakes country, is a bustling venue for growers offering fresh produce from local farms, gardeners with plants and flowers for sale, local craftspeople with their latest designs in fabric and wool, bakers with van loads of fresh breads, pastries and preserves, and more.      

Dunnville Farmers' Market
Established in 1860 Dunnville
Location: Market Street, beside the arena, downtown  
Time of operation: Tuesday, Saturday March to December  

The market, located near the banks of the Grand River, boast of a wide range of locally produced foods — including fresh produce, with a large variety of Niagara fruit — and handmade gifts from around the county. There’s also baked goods, eggs, fresh flowers, preserves — even candles to go along with the honey. A variety of events throughout the season keeps things lively.        

St. Catharines Farmers' Market
Established in 1868 St. Catharines  

Location: 91 King St., Market Square, City Hall, downtown  
Time of operation: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday Year-round  

About: Located in the Niagara fruit belt, you can rest assured you’ll find plenty of fresh produce at this market in the heart of downtown St. Catharines.  You’ll also find a wide variety of other goods — from spices to seafood to homemade jams. There’s also baked bread, meats, local honey and a taste of Caribbean, Lebanese and Mexican foods. Did we mention jewelry? If you’re looking for it, you’ll find it here.        

Goderich Farmers' Market
Established in 1893 Goderich

Location: 1 Courthouse Square, downtown, south entrance  
Time of operation: Saturday May to October  

About: It’s a weekend event in Goderich, with fresh food shopping at the farmers’ market on Saturday, followed by the flea market on Sunday. Take any of the three gateway entrances to the downtown: Kingston Street, East Street or Hamilton Street off Hwy 21 (Victoria Street) — they all lead to The Square. The outdoor farmers’ market features  Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables, honey, maple syrup, plants and flowers, pork and beef products, baked goods, preserves and locally produced arts and crafts.  

Quinte West Farmers' Market
Established in 1906 Trenton
Location: Front Street, downtown  
Time of operation: Thursday, Saturday May to November  

The waterfront location on the Trent River is just right for an outdoor covered market, where farmers showcase a variety of locally grown produce. The home bakers are there, too, along with the craftspeople and the musicians, making the market a great place to hang out. Quinte West is a rich agricultural region, with many roadside fruit and vegetable stands on hand to keep you going after you’ve left the market and eaten your supplies of fresh goodies.        

Welland Farmers' Market
Established in 1907 Welland

Location: 50 Market Square, downtown  
Time of operation: Saturday Year-round  

Located downtown where the action is, just a short walk to the canal, Welland’s market is one of the most popular in the Niagara Region. The indoor/outdoor facility is equipped with a multi-purpose demonstration kitchen, so there’s plenty of flavour and excitement going during the week, too. The market is hailed for its fresh produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods and unique gifts by local artisans. — April 2012