Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Tribute to the Keith's Brewery Farmer's Market

On the heels of my Seaport Farmer's Market post, I thought I'd check in with my past - the past being 2008 and an article I wrote for Halifax Magazine about the Halifax Farmer's Market. Reviewing this article pulled at my heart strings and made me appreciate the side of those vendors who have chosen to stay at the Keith's Brewery Market.

Market day was always one of routine excitement (if I can used such a term). By reviewing this article, I realized that the Keith's Brewery Farmer's Market's individuality, uniqueness and authenticity is what made me fall in love with it in the first place.

In short, I am incredibly excited for the new market, but the Keith's Brewery Farmer's Market will always hold a very dear place in my heart. After all, it was this market - with these vendors and chefs - that made me want to investigate food just a little further, and lead me on the food writing path that I tread today.

I'd like to give kudos and my sincerest thanks to all the vendors who set up at 5 am to provide fresh produce, meats, seafood, breads, artwork, clothing, wines, etc. for so many years. Your contributions to the quality of life in Halifax will always be appreciated and remembered.

An intimate market experience

By: Kristen Pickett

Saturday is my favorite day of the week. It’s not because I get to sleep in, do the laundry or run all my errands abandoned during the busy week. But it’s because Saturday is market day and I look forward to it all week long. One recent visit in particular was different from any other, as I had the experience of exploring the Halifax Farmer’s Market with Chef Dennis Johnson of Fid Restaurant in Halifax.

In the wee hours of the morning, still cold and dark, I bundled up and headed down to Keith’s Brewery. I’m a frequent market-goer and generally fall in with the 9:30 crowd. This was a different experience because at 6:00 a.m.— without the crowds of fellow shoppers — I was able to see the skeletal structure of this Halifax institution as vendors scurried to and fro to make the last-minute adjustments to their stands.

Held on Saturday mornings year-round from 7:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., the Farmer’s Market is a highly anticipated ritual for citizens of Halifax and the surrounding area. This tradition spans generations, as market-goers who went as children, now bring their own families to take part in the food, sights and smells of market day. Vendors come from all areas from the province: Maitland, Tatamagouche, and Elmsdale to name a few, in order to participate in this weekly celebration of Nova Scotia’s bounty.

There was a hum of activity in the early hours as vendors completed their set-up. The headlights from trucks being unloaded in the early dawn shone like beacons, guiding shoppers toward their treasures. I watched with a mixture of excitement and curiosity while a vegetable vendor arranged and rearranged his produce to create an edible canvas of carrots, beets, apples and squash to appeal to the visual sense of his customers.

I met Dennis as he was hauling a full load of vegetables, and he proceeded to introduce me to some of the market’s key contributors. These vendors provide not only their produce, but their time, energy and enthusiasm as well. The advantage of traveling though the maze of the market with Dennis was apparent upon my discovering not only “new-to-me” vendors and products, but in discovering the background behind the market. The market is a co-operative, he explained, and all those on the executive council are producers present every Saturday morning, selling their products and interacting with the public.

As I asked Dennis where his list was, he pointed to his head. There were several things that he knew he needed; necessities such as onions, greens and bread for Fid’s breadbasket, but many menu items were inspired on the spot by the products available. This is, after all, a philosophy common to many Halifax chefs.

It was incredible to observe the chef, whose creativity in the kitchen is influenced and guided by the season, while he thoughtfully decided on his purchases. As he jumped behind the counters of several vendors, amassing his choices and tossing jokes back and forth, I watched the camaraderie that revealed itself between two very different professions: a chef and a farmer, whose purpose and futures are dependent upon one another and inextricably linked.

The respectful relationship between chef and vendors is evident, one going so far as to refer to Dennis as “the market’s champion”. He is a dedicated chef, with his dedication extending not only towards his own establishment and customers, but also toward the vendors themselves, their purpose, the market and community. I too felt a sense of respect here. I was a student to many of the vendors who, upon discovering my inquisitive nature, spoke at length regarding their personal desires and aspirations for the future of the market. While he guided me through his regular routine, Dennis purposefully pointed out vendors who can trace their ancestry back to the market’s establishment.

As I left the market with a bag full of goodies, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude. I had just been given a personal tour of one of my favorite places in Halifax — a place I thought I knew quite well, but realized that I had only just scratched the surface. Sure, I knew where to get the best herbs, tasty sausages and mouth-watering baked goods, but I was unaware as to the fabric woven behind the scenes.

Dennis showed me that this gathering of individuals isn’t just about buying and selling. It’s about the pride the vendors take in their craft, their desire to be environmentally and socially conscious, and their determination to support Nova Scotia’s economy.

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