Farm Friday: Sick Kids Hospital

Name: Sick Kids Farmers’ Market
Location: Sick Kids Hospital front lawn, 555 University Ave.
Date & Time: Tuesday’s 9-2, June 1 to Oct. 26
Number of Booths: 9
Contact: 647-898-1492

Located in the heart of hospital way on the front lawn of the Sick Kids Hospital, the Farmers’ Market is one of four My Market markets, with a different angle to the same focus.

While all My Market markets guarantee that the farmers are selling only what they produce instead of reselling others’ product, the Sick Kids market has been geared directly to employees of the hospital and downtown passersby. Started because Sick Kids food services manager, Tracy Maccarone, contacted the Farmers Markets of Ontario about a program that could be created for fresh and healthy food ideas for her staff, the market is now in it’s third year and hopes to target business employees in the area, whether for an afternoon snack or to do some lunchtime grocery shopping.

The Sick Kids market manager, Marc Michalak, says that every week there are a variety of muffins, made by Loffredo Fruit Farms, which sell out as employees come into work. So as far as Tuesday’s go, Maccarone’s goal of providing healthy and homegrown food has been working. Also geared towards the working crowd, but part of the Loffredo farm specialty, are individual pies and tarts all made in their commercial kitchen. Michalak says that many of their farmers continue baking during their off seasons so that they can continue selling product made from stored produce and fruits.

Specific to the Sick Kids market is the donations box they keep on the information table. With a donation, shoppers can take a My Markets canvas bag and all the money raised from the sale of bags goes towards the hospital. Michalak says that they raise up to $50 some weeks, which is a lot for bags, and is often surprised with people’s generosity.

My Market markets are a compilation of farms that are My Pick certified, meaning that an inspector with the Farmers Markets of Ontario ensures that everything farmers intend to sell was produced and created on their farm. This can include a range of products from produce to apple cider, maple syrup or hand-baked goods. My Market is an initiative of the Farmers Markets of Ontario, and receives funding from them, as well as income from the vendors wishing to sell at their markets. Because all of the vendors wishing to be a part of the market have to purhcase a tent, it give the feel of a complete set. Also attached to each tent is the farmer’s bio to allow shoppers to read it and see the picture, then be able to recognize the farmer behind the table.

While Diana Gonzalez, Toronto district supervisor for My Market, says that most farmers markets shouldn’t be allowed to call themselves that, their mission is the same that I’ve heard about markets across the city. “It’s a producer driven market focused on bringing awareness to the consumers about where the food is grown and giving them the rare opportunity of speaking to the people who actually grew the food,” Gonzalez says.

This is a very strict rule for the Sick Kids market. Market managers go around to every farmer’s table each week and verify that what they are selling is what they agreed upon providing at the beginning of the year. If they have something on the table that was not in the initial agreement they are asked to take it off and not sell it. This discrepancy only happened once during Gonzalez’s three-year role with My Markets and was simply a miscommunication. In that instance, an apple farmer was selling apple cider, but had not specified that they had the facilities to make apple cider. An inspector went out to their farm, and by the next week the product was back on the table.

While Michalak hands out juicy and tangy raspberries from O.K. Farms to passersby he says that what he loves about his job is being able to highlight the work of the farmers, and adds to the welcoming atmosphere that they so try to develop. Adding to the ambiance at all their markets are paid musicians. Once, said Michalak, children started dancing the Irish Jig to a fiddler and got the whole crowd involved. “It brings that kind of town fare element to it.”

There are four My Market markets in Toronto; Bloor and Borden, East Lynn, Liberty Village and of course Sick Kids. The biggest and most popular is the East Lynn market, says Gonzalez, because they have a team of regular volunteers who blog every week, set up a kids tent with face painting or crafts, cook food purchased from the farmers and are able to set up events such as the Strawberry Social and Corn Howdown.