FMT #4 — North Gower & Pembroke Farmers’ Markets, THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT and Story Time: “God Only Knows”

Hi folks!

Well — a lot has happened since Farmers’ Market Troubadour #3 including TWO market gigs (more on those in a  minute) … And I know that I promised to try to write one of these for every gig, and I have tried, but the fact is the aforementioned “lot” has, well, let’s just say, changed things up a bit…

Those that follow me on social media may already know that there is a big announcement about my day job situation (yes, it’s true, I am NOT a full time troubadour…)  Well, here it is… Only 20 something years after studying playwriting in college, and only 30 years into a career as a chef/local food dude, I am, as of the week after next, moving into a full time creative writing position as a writer/researcher for Ottawa’s ‘Gusto TV’ food network.  

In many ways, this is a dream job for me — anyone who knows me well knows that my passion is storytelling… whether it is with my songs, writing my blogs and stories, or even in how I curate my menus and write my recipes…  As a chef, manager, business owner, musician or even volunteer, I have learned that a good story is the best way to sell, to teach, to build community, or to bring people together.  

And now, for the first time in my life, it will also become the core of my daily work life, instead of the project I sometimes sneak in on the side… (You know, like writing a FM Troubadour blog or something…?)

I wasn’t necessarily looking for other work when this came along… I have a pretty dreamy set up and I am very grateful for my time at Natural Food Pantry… The team there has been a pleasure to work with.  But now that the ‘Natural Café’ is open and trucking along fairly smoothly, I feel like this is also a pretty natural transition point; getting the cafe up and running was a big part of why I came into the fold.  

In fact, if you are in Barrhaven for any reason and find that you seem to be “looking for lunch in all the wrong places”, I can still pretty comfortably recommend the right one… the noodle bowls, sammiches and smoothies we all developed there over the past year are creative and unlike what you might find at any of the cookie cutter chains nearby;  we use the freshest, best ingredients (of course); organic, often local produce, grass fed, natural and certified organic meats, our smoothies and beverages are often not only delicious but designed with therapeutic benefits in mind… Definitely the most nourishing meal you will find from any eatery in that part of town, the space is bright, comfortable and the coffee (from Fluid Solar) is strong, tasty, and made with love. 

But this opportunity was pretty sweet.  Nicole saw the posting and after I read it about three times in a row, I thought ‘holy crap, I might be able to actually get this job!’  A thought in slight contrast to the usual ‘holy crap! I’d give my left arm for that job!’ that I usually have when I see a listing for a creative writing position… This one stood out for a few reasons but at the top weas the fact that in addition to “creative” and “writing” there were two other words included in the advertisement; “food” and “research” — creative writing is one thing, but how often do you throw in my two other great passions/hobbies/proclivities in the same job description?  

I leapt.  While the rest has happened pretty quickly by most measures, to me it feels like a lifetime in the making.  It’s been, well, a “lot”.

And in the meantime, well, I guess I just haven’t quite gotten around to writing my blog and keeping my promise to you…

Speaking of which…

Saturday June 15:

It has now been a couple of weeks since I finally played at the North Gower Farmers’ Market — I say ‘finally’ because it feels like I’ve been waiting a darn long while to play at one of my most frequently visited markets– North Gower is the next town over and for years I’ve shot over there to grab veggies from Rideau Pines or Rochon if I was short on a Saturday, or I’ve popped in to hear a friend play tunes in the groovy courtyard, or I’ve swung in on a whim to grab No Go coffee or some She Sells Seashells Oysters (oh yeah!)  but this is the first time I’ve made the trip with the music hat on…

The Market: 

North Gower Farmers’ Market is located at 2397 Roger Stevens Dr. 300 meters West of the intersection of Roger Stevens Dr. and Fourth Line Rd.  Or, ‘across from the pub’ if you live in these parts… They have ample parking on a large grass lot or on the street, the setting is picturesque with vendors both inside and outside the big “L-shaped” red barn that frames the market.  I would venture that ambling up from the grassy lot to the barn is about the most perfect ‘country market’ moment you can experience anywhere; I’d even be willing to say that it was one of the reasons I moved here…

The Music:

My NG market day was wet and rainy, so they put me inside (thank you!) where I plucked my way through the classics… I am finding that musically, markets seem to want smiley songs… uptempo, familiar, or at least easy to identify.  The more of these markets that I play, the more I find that there are some songs and artists that will win over a passer by better than others — not necessarily because they are that person’s ‘favourite’ song, but more because they are the song that best captures the market ‘mood’.  On a rainy day, I sing songs about rainbows, on a sunny day, I sing songs about the sun… Some markets seem to want folk and country, others want me to play my selections from the 80s — and all of them seem to smile at Neil Young or the Beatles.  

Some of my originals work well at markets – C, eh? N, eh, D, eh? (the Canada Song) seems to pander quite well (wink)… and Walking Sam and Train Song often garner nods of approval.  And Starting Over seems to be a winner with almost any audience. But some, the ones I sometimes call ‘bummer songs’ really need the right room to work, and the market, well, it’s not exactly a ‘room’.  As a result, I find myself, more and more, drifting to the solid smilers and leaving the bummers behind. I’m pretty sure this is not bad for my mental health either, come to think of it. 

The Vendors:

Veggies — it’s still ‘Canada early’ in the season but Rochon has a good greenhouse so tomatoes, cukes and peppers were out… strawberries were just starting.  Greens, of course and asparagus (Rideau Pines has the goods…) radishes and turnips looked lovely and I went home with some green onions as well… 

Lunch —  Thai food from Siam was awesome, I even scored a handful of spring rolls as a tip!  Lots of pies and pastries, and the ‘Retired Chef’ was on hand with his awesome selection of Meditterranean goodies including baba ganoush, hummus, falafel, dolmades, flatbreads and more… He is always the sweetest guy at the market and the hardest working retired guy I know… NGFM also has a canteen that uses farm product in breakfasts, burgers and more.  I came here last year for oysters but they weren’t here this week, maybe later in the season? That was a real treat…

Other — this market is a crafters paradise — It is definitely a good stop if you want a unique gift… My favourite this time and probably my best ‘tip’ to date was a cutting board from Pine Ridge Cabinets — holy smokes!  My music nerd friends will be shocked to hear that I got the tip after a rendition of, of all things, ‘Country Roads’ — This is why we do it folks, this is why we do it…

One other product of note was a tasty crisp bread from Simply Baked made with spent grape skins from her local winery… Not sweet, just miles of flavour.

Coffee — GREAT coffee from No Go — full espresso machine on site and even the ‘regular’ is what they call a ‘Canadiano’, no drip at all!

Overall a great market and well worth a road-trip if you are not a local… especially on a sunny day when the courtyard is open…

Saturday, June 29:

The Market:

The Pembroke Farmers’ Market is located on the corner of Lake St. & Victoria St. in Pembroke, Ontario.  The market is fully covered by a wide solid roof with open sides allowing all of the vendors to back their trucks right up to the market area… The remote location and the ‘boot sale’ vibe generated by the semicircle of trucks all contribute to a ‘country’ vibe that is both immediately different from ‘country’ feel of the NG market (which seems almost like an idealized urban market by comparison) and somehow, simultaneously, even more viscerally authentic.  

As I’ve discovered after years of working with the Kemptville Farmers’ Market — most farmers want things from a market that customers care little about; things like ease of access, easy (read “short”) hours of operation, low operation costs… every penny counts… this is why markets have handmade signs, little or minimal paid staff, etc.)   

Pembroke comes across as a farmer’s farmers’ market if that makes any sense… While markets that are run by community boards or municipal staff tend to look and feel more slick– they don’t don’t always attract the broadest set of farmers; such as the types who may find an abundance of, shall we say ‘structure’ annoying and unnecessary.  Especially if it is costly. Of course, all these considerations aside, they will put up with a lot of nonsense if the sales are there… 

And this is the fine line that a market’s organizing committee or board must walk — being slick enough to bring in the customers, but not too slick to keep the farmers away.  By my metric, Pembroke is doing a fine job with this — the space is clearly farmer friendly (no tents, everyone has truck and electrical access) but the layout also welcomes customers with the convenience of a rain or shine facility, proper washrooms, and ample parking.  And as a result, they have a great selection of good farmers and a nice steady flow of clients as well.

The Music:

I am pretty confident this is Neil Young country — a cover of Harvest Moon early in the day seemed to win them over to the city slicker with the funny hat; and after that I sprinkled in another Neil song every half hour or so to keep them on the team… As there was a face painter and kids zone on hand for the Canada Day weekend, the kids tunes came in handy as well… Check out the ‘Story Time’ below for more on that…

The Vendors:

Veggies – McGregor Produce had some big pile of strawberries, Claude from Hill Top Farms took EXTREMELY good care of me (thanks buddy!  See you at Landsdowne) with Harukei Turnips, butter lettuce, kale, spinach and more… I also spotted garlic and garlic scapes, even some early onions and potatoes.  The veggies are here!

Hill Top Gardens

Lunch – ‘Ready to eat’ was pretty limited here but the canteen had a tasty sausage on a bun using sausage from the meat shop next door (“we source all of our meat from local producers” I was told…), they also had coffee, pop, burgers and that kind of thing.  My lunch was gratis (hooray!) so I did not explore the area as I sometimes do…

Other: I picked up a jar of kosher garlic dill pickles from Ether Coulis that have a nice crunch and a jar of “Spicy Tomato Sauce” from Ferme El Camino that is warmed up with harissa… (they mostly had jams and jellies). There was also honey, the “Pickle Vixens”, candles, potted plants and seedlings, and groovy looking fellow selling hand crafted dog treats…

Meat:  I mentioned the meat shop (Uncle Jim’s) — it is a nice feature at this market, a full meat shop right under the market roof with glass case refrigeration for fresh meats (very unusual at a market around here, where frozen is usually the order of the day…) I brought home ‘homemade headcheese’ OF COURSE. And a big ol sirloin that stood in just fine for skirt steak on the fajitas we had for dinner that night.  There are a couple of packs of sausage in the freezer as well for later in the week including an unusual flavour for these parts, Cilantro and Lime!

Coffee – folks, I won’t go into it, but I also won’t make any promises on this one.

Over all a sweet market and the locals are very lucky to have such a welcome place to visit and stock up… definitely would be a regular haunt of mine if I were even a little closer.

Story Time:

“God Only Knows”

My recent trick at markets is asking youngsters for requests —  a couple of weeks ago this lead to Purple Rain, (yes!) but mostly I get “Twinkle Twinkle”, “Wheels on the Bus” and “Baby Shark” (actually fun to play if the kids know all the moves…) But Saturday, I must admit, this trick kinda backfired on me… About halfway through the day, a cute little blonde kiddette took my offer to play a request at face value, shyly approached, and, with a little coaxing, finally divulged the name of her favourite song.  

Now, I am not a monster, if a kid requests a song I will not use the opportunity to judge them, I will impose neither my moral certitude nor my extremely refined musical taste onto them; in addition, l would also never not play it, if I could find so much as a half a chorus in my head — I may, possibly, teasingly berate them for not helping more if, say,  I feel a sudden need to cover up my deficient memory… 

But this, this was different.  This cute little angel of a kid asked for… wait for it… “Jesus Loves Me”.  Gulp. Ok, now I’m in it. Well, folks, I’m either proud or possibly even slightly embarrassed to report that it turns out that this little ditty from my occasionally troubling Southern Baptist upbring has somehow stubbornly persisted in my psyche intact.  And I mean, completely intact.  The chords, lyric and melody come back to me as if I wrote them. The issue, it turns out, was not whether or not I could “play” the song… But rather whether or not I would, well, choose to “play” or to “play at” the song.  

For a little background, I am usually pretty strict about the types of songs I will or will not play (listen to “Me and Nicole” if you want to know why I won’t play “Me and Bobby McGee”).  And I am not above a gospel tune with a lovely message (Keep on the Sunny Side, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, We Shall Overcome) and, of course, Christmas brings out all the Jesus I can muster (I’d put O Holy Night up pretty high on a list of the greatest songs ever written) — I’ve even written a ‘gospel-esque’ tune (“Don’t Burn Your Bible”)… But “Jesus Loves Me” is such a different animal… It has such a blunt, clear message… so honest, so blatant, so… well… hard to hide from.  

So hard that, in fact, I hesitated.  It took at least a beat and breath to consider what I was about to do.  This was not a small choice for me, knowing how to play this song was not as simple as strumming out the chords, it was even more than stepping across a divide as wide as my entire adult life.  In fact, I’m still not sure if I did the right thing — all I know is that when I looked at that little girl, all full of hope and promise — unspoiled by the world, unaffected by the hypocrisy that drove me, decades ago, from the ability to sing that simple song easily, comfortably, without any trace of a studied, deep and heavy sense of ironic detachment… I looked in her big, wide hopeful eyes, and, well, I sang it for her.  

God only knows what that means. 

Thanks y’all — See you at the Market!

The Farmers’ Market Troubadour

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2 thoughts on “FMT #4 — North Gower & Pembroke Farmers’ Markets, THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT and Story Time: “God Only Knows”

  1. He DOES love you, you know. What a sweet child—thank you for honoring her request. Do you sing that song with your own little angel? I hope you will always be open to the tender requests of “the least of these”. Love you! Mom

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