Farmers Market Challenge: Snow Days

This week there was sun, candy blue skies, and light as early as 7 a.m.. The long haul of snow has all but melted away. It is quite the contrast to the weather two weeks ago.

When I saw the dumping of snow outside my window the morning of market day on February 4th, I wasn’t sure if the market would go ahead. In all its history, it had only cancelled once, and that, as you may recall, was in January due to the danger of the icy conditions. I kept an on eye on the Twitter feed right up until 11 a.m., and with no sign of cancelling, I trudged forward.

I didn’t have a plan formulated, but I did have a goal: find something fresh, find something green, don’t break my hip.

Thanks to city counsellor Patrick Johnstone who spent the morning shovelling Belmont Street with his $20 shovel, the last was covered. The former, however, was touch and go at first.

More than half the scheduled vendors had yet to arrive, or had outright cancelled. This was not overly surprising given that many come in from the east, which had been hit the hardest. I saw my hopes of greens fading fast. And yet, tucked away at the top of the street was Aaron Ossome and his megawatt smile warmly welcoming every customer that walked his way. My eyes nearly bugged. Of all the vendors, I thought for sure the Ossome’s would be a no-show.

Aaron owns Ossome Acres, which is located in Rosedale, just east of Chilliwack, an area that got 21 cm of snow overnight. The trip in, he said was long and rough – one-way the whole way. But he wasn’t complaining.

“My truck’s from Prince George; it came with snow tires and studs,” he laughed. “I want to be here; it’s my job.”

The Ossome table was smaller than usual, featuring only the heartiest of its winter crops: eggs, walnuts, and, in a blue cooler, sprouted pea shoots to protect them from the freeze.

The pea shoots, my first purchase of the day, provided me with my “fresh and green” goal right off the hop. I also picked up a 100-gram bag of hulled walnuts that were picked from the Ossome trees. I love nuts, snacking on them every day, but I often forget about walnuts, most usually opting for almonds. The sweetness of these nuts were a wonderful addition to my morning oatmeal, yogurt, lunch and dinner salads, and even just a handful stuffed into my mouth.

A scoop of walnuts on a dollop of Greek yogurt is like maple-walnut ice cream made healthier.

Aaron wasn’t the only one smiling. It didn’t matter how cold it was, or how few customers they had at the start of market, or how much snow covered the sidewalks, or if the tent was more a wind tunnel than a weather-safe haven – they all had smiles on their rosy faces. These folks are no doubt of a hearty makeup. Kim from Sweet Thea Bakery was prepared with layers; Anne of Anne’s Jams made sure to keep her feet moving; Kathryn and Michelle from Kiki’s Kitchen found warmth in the heater behind their table; and Mas from Handworks Coffee Studio was surely blessing his fortune – no doubt the busiest vendor at the market.

Matcha tea: warmed the belly and the hands

Market Loot:

• A Bread Affair: – 2 loaves at buy 1 get the 2nd half price

– 1 loaf “Love at First Bite” $10

– 1 loaf “Love Birds” $3

• Ossome Acres: – 1 large container pea shoots $4

– 100 grams walnuts $4

• Anne’s Jams – 1 jar blackberry jam $5

• Natural and Healthy – 2-serving split pea soup plus a free 1-serving sample of the chorizo bean soup $6.75

• Local Beef and Eggs – 1 dozen eggs $6

• Handworks Coffee Studio – 1 cup hot matcha tea $2.50

Total spent was: $40.25.

Let me tell you about the local flavour in my bag. The Love at First Bite bread was voted the number one taste of Vancouver in 2010 by Vancouver Sun food critic Mia Stainsby. Inside, it featured blueberries picked from Pitt Meadows, hazelnuts from my hometown of Bradner, and grain from Agassiz. Topped with a spread of blackberry jam from Anne’s Jams, which contained blackberries picked in the late summer months off the Fraser, made for a lovely breakfast treat. The walnuts and pea shoots came from Rosedale, the eggs from free-range chickens in South Surrey, and the Hungarian-based soups were made in a Vancouver kitchen. Every bite was a bite of goodness.

Yet, still, there was a touch of disappointment with how light my bag was upon my departure. I had spent $40, but only had one full bag. Compared to the summer bags, which were often bursting with freshness, there was no doubt a significant difference in quantity and fresh-based foods. More often these days, I’m lucky to fill one bag, and the majority is of the preserved ilk. That’s not a bad thing, but it is different.

When I started tallying how long my purchases lasted, and how far they would extend, and the diversity of each, I soon had a smile near Aaron Ossome megawatt smile.

The Love Birds bread, which was chock-a-block full of flax seed, sunflower seed, poppy seed, and sesame seed, and was by far my favourite of the two, paired perfectly with sandwiches, soups, and breakfast toast. We made omelettes, fried eggs, and egg sandwiches with the eggs. The pea shoots became sandwich, soup, salad, and toast toppings. We got three full-bowl servings of the soups. And the walnuts were the treat of the entire loot.

It’s all about perspective. The winter market is not the summer market and the summer market is not the winter market. Both have their own merits, and both have great value.

I’ve got my fingers crossed for frozen berries and kale at the next market.