This past weekend was opening day for a lot of things: My parents celebrated opening day for Pickerel in the County on Saturday with a few casts off the dock and a meal of fresh fish cooked over a campfire. The Main Street Market welcomed the masses on Saturday and then the Brewer Park Market followed suit on Sunday. I was busy with the Canadian Organic Growers Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday so I missed out on the Main Street Market. I did however, get the chance to meet with Robert Oechsli of Alpenblick Farm that afternoon, to pick up a delivery of cheese and maple syrup from his organic farm.
I first met Robert last December at COG OSO (Ottawa/ St. Lawrence/ Outauais) Chapter’s AGM and Organic Beekeeper meeting. He is from Lenk in the Simmental valley of Switzerland, which is very near to where my own grandfather was born. We talked of Switzerland, our Swiss cow bells and his Simmental cow’s (a breed unique to the Simmental valley in Switzerland).
This past Saturday, my coworker, Ashley and I were busy all morning prepping for the AGM and before I knew it is was 1:15. The AGM was 45min from beginning and I had to collect my cheese and maple syrup from Robert before it started. Luckily, our office in Vanier is not too far from the pickup location so off I went. I was a little anxious to the leave the office, unsure of what exactly to expect. I was relieved to find Robert, in his traditional Swiss hat, sitting, nonchalant on the tailgate of his truck with a cooler. It was like meeting with an old friend. We picked up right where we had left off months earlier, talking of Switzerland, the language, and farming. One of the many admirable traits about farmers to me is their ability to make you feel at ease. They always seem so easy going, their perception of time, different from that of a city slicker. They have time and take time to share with you. I envy that, it’s so hard to not fall into the rush of the city.
We could have talked all day, but I only had fifteen minutes until the start of the AGM. I was nervous about my presentation and could not help but get a little anxious, looking at my watch, to get back to the office. When another customer walked up, I reluctantly bid “uf widerluege” to Robert (Good bye in Swiss) and made plans to take him for coffee next time he was in town.
The AGM went smoothly with only a few minor technical glitches. I was exhausted, I went home that evening and was in bed by 9. It had been a long week and while part of me just wanted to hide in my apartment all Sunday, I knew my fridge was looking bare and I could not live off of Robert’s cheese until the Market next weekend. So Sunday, I awoke early and prepared to tackle the Brewers Farmers Market. It was another gorgeous day with the Sun shining brightly already. I collected my thoughts, figured out the logistics, of which backpack (my biggest camping sac), biking or walking (biking), which route (the canal), and took stock of my fridge (three beets and a turnip). I was set to hit the market (give or take a trip halfway down the stairs and back after almost forgetting to apply sunscreen).
I arrived to the market around 11am. It was bustling to say the least. There we so many vendors and even more people. It was exciting to see so many people out supporting the market! One of the first stalls to draw me in was Halsall’s Honey with samples of churned honey. The woman behind the stall looked very familiar, but I didn’t think much of it. I was too distracted by the marvelous texture and taste of this churned honey I had just sampled. After learning how to substitute honey for sugar when canning and why you would want churned honey as opposed to regular honey (It spreads better), it finally hit me: the lady behind the stall was my elementary school Librarian. What are the chances? This lady that had read me Jillian Jigs stories and helped foster my love of reading also sells some of the most delicious honey I have ever tasted.
Next, I found Roots and Shoots and O’Grady Farms. Shaw runs O’Grady Farms, a sprout farm, in space he rents from Roots and Shoots. I met him a few months earlier when I was at Roots and Shoots Farm seeding leeks and onions for a day. Shawn was just starting his sprouts then in a patch of the greenhouse. I could hardly believe these delicious looking, tiny green wonders were a product of that same barren patch I had seen him working on just two months earlier. Diane, my neighbor in Sandy Hill and gardening partner (She’s letting me grow vegetables in her garden with her this year!) walked up at that same moment. We both purchased some sprouts from Shawn (he recommended I try the mustard sprouts) and then found a shady spot to sit and catch up. By the time we had caught up it was noon already and I had only been to two booths and all I had was honey and sprouts to eat for the next week. I was in an open area with picnic tables in the middle. I looked about to plan my path and some familiarly shaped paper bags caught my eye, I had to see if they were what I thought they were. As I got closer I confirmed that I was not mistaken and I looked at the vendor and exclaimed, “I was hoping I’d run into you!” It was George, the wheat grower that had been providing the oats in my winter CSA. I gazed upon his table with delight: rye, red fife, buckwheat, spelt, steel cut oats, rolled oats. Just wonderful, a bakers paradise! Local and organic grain, words cannot explain my delight.
George is one of those people you meet and it’s as though you’ve been friends for years. We talked for quite some time. Turns out we both attended the same high school (Osgoode Township High School) and shared the same love for sports (He was a football player). In the time I spent at his booth I watched him talk to customers with ease, offering samples of cookies baked fresh in his solar over and greeting previous year’s customers by remembering their orders. At one point, two girls ventured up to his stall and inquired about seeds to grow wheat. George was quick to provide them with a bags of his unmilled wheat and advice on how to sow the seeds. He recommended they reference one of COG’s practical skills handbooks on wheat growing. I encouraged them to stop by COG and visit the library. We swapped stories about apartment gardening. They had a rooftop in Sandy Hill that they wanted to grow some herbs and vegetables on this summer. As the conversation continued we discovered that we are literally next door neighbours, as they live in the building across the street from me, what are the chances! Then Trisha, whom I know through Ecology Ottawa, stopped by to pick up a bucket of oats from George for her bakery: Branch Out. She started the bakery in January and was trying her best to use local suppliers (not an easy task as she makes vegan, nut free, gluten free baked goods with only organic, fair trade ingredients). She told me she thought of me the other day after meeting a girl who told her a story about going to an eccentric farm with someone that was eating local for a year. She figured that someone was probably me, she was right. The farm? Robert’s, Alpenblick.
George’s stall was by far the highlight of my trip to the market and where I spent the majority of my time. When I finally did depart from his stall it was not without rye and some red fife to try my hand at 100% local rye bread. I continued on, picking up some grass fed stewing beef, a bushel of apples, and my final stop, a package of cranberries before I returned to my bike ready to head home.
I had spent three and half hours at the market (and boy was I glad I turned around and headed back up the stairs when I realized I had forgot to put on sunscreen!). I unpacked my treasures on the kitchen table, excited at the potential for so many different meals! I couldn’t help but muse over the connections I had made with people. A diverse range of people from all chapters of my life. Whether it had been my Swiss heritage, my small town schooling or my current home in Sandy Hill. The familiarity of these geographic locations allowed me to connect and reconnect with so many people. It really brings new meaning to the term six degrees of separation.