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Kemptville Farmers’ Market Oct 13 – and here’s an old Mark Ettinger poster to grab your attention!

Hi folks — happy Canadian Thanksgiving weekend… or… as we call it in Canada, “Thanksgiving”.

I will be the musical guest at this Sunday’s Farmers’ Market in Kemptville, playing from 1-3pm… Located in downtown Kemptville in the B&H lot, or, if you are like me and can’t get 2 blocks without using Google Maps, at 200 Sanders St. Kemptville, ON

In honour of October I will likely play my scarily accurate cover of Michael Jackson’s monster hit “Thriller” (‘monster’ hit, heh heh…) or, possibly, not…

To be clear, the ‘Thriller’ thing is a joke– I did cover it once, but ‘scarily accurate’ is not how I would describe my attempt… It’s way more likely that I’ll do a bunch of Lennon songs in honour of his recent birthday, and a bunch of happy fun market tunes that I’ve accumulated playing all the various and sundry markets in the region this season…

Either way — here’s a poster from the mind of my pal Mark Ettinger, one of a series of 12 different movie themed posters he made for a single show we played back in ’16 or so when I had that venue place…

Hope to see you at the market!

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Do you live in Ottawa? Hamilton? Toronto?

Hey!

Do you live in Ottawa? If so, come see me for FREE as part of Marvest — the CityFolk festival’s answer to SXSW — I’m playing two showcases:

Sept. 14, 1:30-2pm at BMO Lansdowne, 100 Marche Way #106 — that’s right, a bank!

Sept. 14, 3-3:30pm at Cabana’s Kitchen, 873 Bank Street, that’s right, on a street named bank!

How about Hamilton, Ontario? Do you live in Hamilton?

Sept. 28, 7-9pm, The Casbah (Lounge) w/ Low Country Hill

Toronto?

Sept. 29, 5-7pm, Tranzac Southern Cross, w/ Low Country Hill

Anywhere else? I got nothing… For now! Better make a plan!

For those missing the FMT newsletter, apologies… it’s been an odd few weeks, remind me to tell you about it sometime… Amazing odd, if yer wondering… Love to all, see you out there…

Farmers’ Market Troubadour #5 — Lansdowne Market!

Hi folks!

Last Sunday was a milestone event for sure, playing at one of the largest, busiest producer markets in the region — Ottawa’s Lansdowne Market.

Tomorrow (Sunday, July 14) I will be at the Memorial Centre Farmers Market in Kingston from 10am to about 1pm.

—-

Playing the Lansdowne Market is significant to me as I was an active, early participant as a chef on the advisory committee of Savour Ottawa, the joint effort between the City of Ottawa and Just Food that helped bring this very market to life (among other accomplishments…)

We at the Branch Restaurant were also in the first crop of vendors selling our concession to those early crowds of city folks… Coming back after all this time with just a guitar instead a van full of tents, tables, the smoker, firewood, and enough brisket, sausage and breakfast wraps to feed the entire CFL football audience at the stadium next door, felt like the very welcome last curve of a full circle…

The Market:

Lansdowne Market is on from 9am to 3pm, year round, it is a 100% ‘producer’s’ market (all product made or grown within 100km of Ottawa) located within the Aberdeen Pavilion footprint in the mildly posh Glebe neighbourhood in Ottawa. It sits in the shadow of the ‘Cow Palace’, a relic of the age of agricultural fairs in the city centre… And it is a few steps from Lansdowne Park, home of the RedBlacks, Ottawa’s very own professional CFL football team.

In the early days of this market, the pavilion grounds were a pretty spare and uninviting space, but it has undergone a massive face-lift since then and now boasts acres of manicured if somewhat manufactured spaces, including shops, cinemas, stores, restaurants — all set in a faux ‘downtown/village square’ arrangement that will likely feel natural once it’s been broken in by a few poverty cycles… For now it is a bit sanitized, not unpleasant, just not quite ‘home-y’ either. As a child of the 80s, I call these types of spaces ‘malls without roofs’ as that is my analog for such a vast & sterile community space. Weirdly, the malls from my teen years now feel the same way that the downtown areas did in that same time period… empty, worn, shabby, bygone… I guess this return to a village square/downtown, however inorganic, is probably just an expression of a natural cycle.

Parking, as I guess is to be expected in a proper urban area, is both mildly annoying to access and somewhat pricey to a yokel like me… Not to say it is a long haul with your haul if you do drive — in fact, once you’ve mastered the process of navigating the underground garage, it is very easy to shop here — the garage was half empty last Saturday (with no game or concert to compete), and two of the stairwells surface inside of the market footprint! I’m just saying to be aware that there is, what I would call, an ‘urban tax’ if you should happen to linger too long at the stalls…

The Music:

Holy Macaroni did I have a blast! I noted that this was a busy market — maybe bustling is a better word… or com-bustling maybe… it was certainly lit (hee-hee) Somewhere between the bright sunshiney weather, the crowds, the smiles and the familiar faces in the vendor stalls, I felt right at home strumming my tunes to the world… I kept spying wide grins, tapping toes, a stray pirouette, twirl, a jig… Highlights:

  • A shy kiddo wanted to watch and dad accommodated for about three songs– asked him for his favourite and we settled on Twinkle Twinkle, but I think he just wanted me to quit asking and get back to playing…
  • An older woman in a wheelchair brought her whole family over for ‘Imagine’ — tipped me once the middle and another $5 at the end! I know the song is kind of anti-capitalist, but I still felt pretty ok about the whole thing…
  • Her unabashedly femme son (he told me his drag name but I forgot…) asked for Grace Jones (sorry…) Stevie Wonder (uh… I will work on that?) I pulled out Marvin Gaye (mom liked it…) and Bowie (almost there…) before we hit on Jimmy Cliff’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ which turned into a full throat-ed, full family sing-along… I’m pretty sure he was a little skeptical of the market ‘folkie’ at first, but we were all smiling by the time they finally moved along
  • The highlight of the day (and my life?) was when I was 1 bar into Todd Snider’s version of ‘Enjoy Yourself’ and a couple that looked like they may very well have danced to Guy Lombardo’s original version back in the day hobbled up, he literally threw down his cane, and the two them cut a rug that made me feel like the oldest person in the crowd… The crowd and I all applauded them after the show and I am probably going to ride that smile through the next few gigs… It was more than the dance, it was the song they walked up on it that made it sooo perfect… “Enjoy Yourself — it’s later than you think!” and they did
  • I played a new John Denver song because, uh, it seems to work? I don’t think I realized what a all encompassing warm fuzzy glow that guy actually created until I started performing more and more of his stuff… Hmmmm…

The Vendors:

There are dozens of vendors so I won’t even try to be complete — but here are *my* highlights:

  • Acorn Creek — Andy got a mention in the Carp Market write up — he was on that first advisory committee I mentioned earlier and I wanted to let you know that I checked and he won’t have hot peppers until August…
  • Milkhouse — I stocked up on Tomme! I’ve been shaving it on omelettes this week and all I can say is wowowowowow
  • Frugal Farm — they were a client at the food hub and they use their own recipes for sausage… we had the lamb version on Wednesday and it was SOOO good…
  • Jargon Preserves – he told me it was the best preserved lemon I would ever try… He’s not 100% wrong…
  • Kamuso Miso — I’ve been reading up on Noma lately so this ferment company was particularly interesting to me… I picked up a Navy Bean miso on Saturday and it it 2/3 gone on the following Saturday, so…
  • All About The Soup, Waratah, Roots and Shoots, Trillium, Beaverbrook, Hill Top, Rochon, and Earth’s Harvest that have all gotten mentions in previous FMTs were all there (I said a couple of hellos from all of you…)
  • Avonmore Berry Farm had some gorgeous cherries… (check it out in the picture gallery…)
  • Popsicles from Pascale’s All Natural Ice Cream seemed to be the hit of the day in at least one age group…
  • I wrapped up too late for lunch but there were grass fed burgers, Syrian, Thai, Empanadas, Falafels, and the famous Hot Potato Co. among others…
  • I know I’m missing some… I had to wait to write this and my notes were, um, in my head? And, like I said, there are dozens of vendors. Just go ahead and go, you will find something you like 🙂

The Coffee Sitch:

I had a full cup with me when I got there so it was not as ‘situation critical’ as it can sometimes be for me — which I guess is a good thing… Poppa Bean was selling beans but not cups of the hot brown… (that I could see…) I did not check all the concessions but I bet one of them would have had an option… Only takeout cups I saw with logos were from the Whole Foods (walking distance) which I bet was pretty good if you don’t mind forking your hard earneds over to the Bezos factory…

The Conclusion:

In all, the day was lovely, the music fun, the crowds uplifting, the experience gratifying, the food tasty… I always recommend every market, but this one has a deep well of product to explore, so I can not only recommend it, I can recommend multiple visits… maybe just set aside a few extra shekels for the parking…

Thanks–

No Story Time but I’ll wrap with a note… Regular readers know I started my new job this week… I want to let you all know how happy I am with this new situation. I am just getting to learn the ropes at Gusto TV, but I can gladly report that it is a positive, creative, welcoming space with a ton of amazing people… I have not laughed as hard ‘on the clock’ in a very long time; what a pleasure to be surrounded by such smart folks!

The work is as challenging as I had hoped; and it makes me feel important to be an integral part of such a strong team — I am going to make every effort to make it last as long as possible. On a side note, don’t get too antsy to see my ‘work’ any time soon… The cycles and marketing realities of TV are something I am just getting to know but I can pretty confidently confirm that it will be months if not years before my part of any of the projects I am working on will be visible to the world… Writing in this medium, I am learning, is the first part of a loooong process, and more than slightly different than the ‘a la minute’ world I am used to in kitchens. But, in a way, that also makes me feel safe. I know I am surrounded by a big team who will, (their words, not mine), “…make me look really good no matter how bad I fuck it up…” (winking…) and honestly, that’s a safety net that few if any restaurants/kitchens could ever really promise or provide.

Last– I’d like to thank the world at large for the birthday wishes last week. I love you all, dearly, (except you… you know who I mean…) (winking again…) and I am grateful beyond words for the numerous well wishes I got for that, for the new job, and everything; this job, the market last week, quality time with Nicole and Abigail… it’s all been about as perfect a birthday as I could ever want. I even went an entire week without taking painkillers for my knees! It’s been a darn long time since that’s happened… so, happy birthday to me 🙂 Now speaking of being ‘beyond words…’

See you at the Market!

–The Farmers’ Market Troubadour

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

The Farmers’ Market Troubadour #3 — Carp Farmers’ Market!

Hi Folks!

This week was a ton a fun– musically, it started in a non-market troubadour kinda way when I played a set on Thursday afternoon for a private party at a daycare — that’s right, I finally went FULL KID MUSIC, if only for one event.  To some, this is an ‘about time’ moment — to my 20-something punk rock self this would either have been the least or the most punk thing I’ve ever done, depending on one’s particular understanding of the dictum of that peculiar subculture. I think I’ll call it ‘most’, but mainly because I definitely didn’t do it for the money.

In other news, I’m now available to play your kid event — I can now, as of this week, officially play ‘Wheels On the Bus’ four times in a single set without flinching, which, I’m pretty sure, is the sign of a pro.  

Later, on Thursday evening, I popped into the Marlborough Pub in North Gower to stand in for my pal Dylan Watts hosting the open mic… In theory, it should have been a bit of whiplash between the two sets that day, but I’m not sure if there really is that big of a difference between toddlers in the afternoon and the drunks at the end of the evening, other than… I don’t know… vehicular liability issues?  

Anyway, by Saturday morning, your Farmers’ Market Troubadour was truly that, performing this week at one of my favourite (don’t tell Kemptville…) markets– The Carp Market!

The Market:  

The Carp Farmers’ Market (at “the Fair Grounds in Carp, open Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. from May to October”) is one of the biggest, most well attended and most well known markets in the region, widely recognized as the largest producer-based Farmers’ Market in Eastern Ontario, it has been used as a model for many other Ontario markets.  This is my second music gig at Carp and have been looking forward to it for weeks for a number of reasons:  

  1. It is the home market for several of the area’s best producers and processors, many of whom I got to know well through either my years at Savour Ottawa or while running the food hub — attending for any reason just feels a bit like an ‘old home week’ with lots of hellos, hugs and catching up…
  2. It is very well laid out with a music tent efficiently placed in the middle of a ‘food court’ on the way to the washrooms (high traffic!) in front of enough seating for several dozen market customers, and, it is always full!  And…
  3. Crepetown!  (more on that later…)

As a musician, I love more than a few things, but having a captive audience who is already in a great mood is very, very high on that list.  This is a fun gig!

Parking is on the road or in a large adjacent lot — the road parking seems to turn over frequently enough that it never feels like a long walk.  Dogs are welcome, it is a blast for the family (dozens and dozens of kids were there this weekend, good thing I was all warmed up from Thursday!) And they do several special events throughout the year to keep things interesting.  

Bring cash, a big bag or 2 and an empty belly — the food court is lined with amazing options including popular bacon on a bun, eggrolls, poutine, Brazilian, Lebanese and Thai options — my favourites are probably the pizza place (be prepared to stand in line and get there early before they run out…) and the aforementioned Crepetown… A gluten free crepery run by an actual neighbour of mine from Kemptville… Michelle makes an amazing fresh buckwheat crepe to order, filled with any of a dozen different options and with delicious seasonal specials– this week was asparagus with pea sprouts, spinach, almonds, garlic and olive oil; it was about as close to perfect as I could have asked for and was dairy free, hot, fresh and seasonally correct to boot!  

The Vendors:

There are probably more than 100 vendors between the indoor stalls (in the big barn) and the outdoor tents, so I will just focus on some top faves:

  • The Ketchup Project — Chef David Schaub’s sideline-that-has-become-a-full-ish-time gig is in experimenting with the myriad of combinations that can be assembled under the big tent name of one of the most well known and strangely least explored condiments, Ketchup!  Over the last few years I’ve tried many, my favourites tend to be his oddball experiments like his burnt onion or his rich dark brown mushroom ketchup — but there is a lot to be said for the strawberry, peach, pineapple and other sweet varieties. Start with the tomato, it is a classic condiment and worthy of any pantry.
  • Earth’s Harvest Farm — Luke Swale started his farm locally (to me) in the early years of our restaurant and our farmers market, for many years, he was my ‘chicken guy’ and I still think he has likely the most flavourful, and certainly the most ethically raised birds in the area… I grabbed a pack of chicken sausage from him this week made with ramps and Milkhouse Tomme cheese!
  • Kricklewood Farm — Dale and Brad are THE go to for local cold pressed gourmet oils — they also host an annual Sunflower Festival at the farm that is well worth the drive.  
  • Wild Oak Homestead — Sarah does good ferments… The mustard was my favourite last year, this year I grabbed a turmeric kraut that has ALL the yummies!
  • Waratah Downs Farm — John Weatherhead is a wizard with organic veggies and has excellent taste in hats…
  • Tasha’s Table — VERY tasty sauces, jams pickles and cool labels too!  Excellent for gifting.
  • Dobson’s Grass Fed Beef — the first organic beef producer I met in the region, one of many at this point but still one of my favourites; also the heart and soul behind the Ottawa Valley Food Co-op, a proto food hub that is celebrating its 12th birthday this year!
  • All About the Soup — Andy Tout’s vegan soups are almost as good as mine!  (wink, mine are pretty darn good, but seriously, he is amazing — try the Yam/Peanut, probably my fave…)
  • Acorn Creek —  I first met Andy Teraud on the Savour Ottawa advisory committee in the lead up to the establishment of the Landsdowne Farmers’ Market — he was a passionate and powerful voice pushing for the importance of locally sourced food then and now… He also has a knack for producing some of the best hot peppers in the area which will always give him a special place in my belly…
  • Ugly Cider Co.  — these folks are doing something special with the apples the rest of thought we didn’t want… thank you!
  • Tirasalin Fold — Rosemary Kralik is still bringing the best yak I’ve ever had… Ok, probably the only…
  • Hmmm… I also saw maple syrup, pork, other veggie and pickle producers… Bearbrook farms… Lots of crafters… Gosh darn it, there were so many!  Oh yeah, Dasha from Artizen Kombucha was there! Great to see her and hear about the new factory in Perth! Many, many folks are at the Carp Market and I can only say that it is WELL worth the visit.

The Coffee Situation:

This is probably my favourite coffee situation so far — DELICIOUS coffee is available onsite from Engine House Coffee; I had a refill halfway through, went by to tell him after how much I liked it and he hooked me up with discount bag as a thank you for the tunes!

I half expected to hit Carp local haunts like Alice’s Village Café or the Cheshire Cat for coffee after, but there was no need… But I can still tell you that from previous visits, I can wholeheartedly recommend either of those places for a hearty lunch (if you don’t fill up at the market…)  I’m especially impressed by the Cheshire Cat’s unwavering commitment to local sourcing for their menu; working with them at the food hub was a true treat, they we among the few ‘all-in’ clients I worked with, and their continued success is a model for anyone still living under the mistaken notion that local sourcing means making some kind of business sacrifice.  Just look at the parking lot when you drive by, as someone who would know, I can promise you that a full to bursting parking lot is not a sign of someone making a sacrifice… 🙂

The Music:

Well what can I say — big crowd, happy people, beautiful day… I went for the toe-tappers, the smile makers, the ‘oh you thought you were in a good mood?  Well try this!’ types of songs… Here are some highlights:

  • Ob-La-Di, Ob La Da made a second appearance– caught a few people singing along for this one… Played a lot of Beatles songs actually, it was just that kind of day…
  • Played “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead and had a kid request “Wheels on the Bus” right after, a deadhead came by after and told me he had never heard that exact segue before… I guess I forgot to do Drums, Space and Dark Star first…   
  • Had a good response to my old time and bluegrass numbers, (Keep On The Sunny Side, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, You Are My Sunshine, etc.)  I think my fingers were just warmed up from the multiple sets this week so I was able to nail the picking a little better than usual…
  • Asked a different kid for his favourite song and he said Purple Rain, first of all, cool kid! Second, I actually play that tune (and had the chord chart with me!) and I would have nailed it if the wind hadn’t stolen the chord chart halfway through the second verse… In  short, I owe a very cool kid about 33% of Purple Rain next time I’m in Carp.
  • Dale from Kricklewood requested “Far Away”… I think he was kidding, but I also think I’ll try to learn it anyway just to surprise him at some other market down the road…

Sorry, no Story Time this week– There was just TOO much market to write about. 

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see all of you soon at a market near you 🙂

Next Week: North Gower!

Marlborough Man…

Hi y’all — I will be fillin’ in for Dylan hosting the open mic and playing tunes at the Marlborough Pub this evening…

~Marlborough Pub, 8pm-11pm, June 6 — 2364 Roger Stevens Dr, North Gower, ON K0A 2T0

If you are in the Carp neck of the woods, I will be at the Carp Farmers’ Market from 9am to 12pm as part of my FM Troubadour series — stop by, say hi and enjoy all the local vittles!

~Carp Farmers’ Market, 9am to noon, 3790 Carp Rd, Carp, ON K0A 1L0

And here’s an old poster because… old poster?

Farmers’ Market Troubadour #2; Kemptville FM; Story Time “Distribution Blues”

Hi Folks!

Welcome to Farmers’ Market Troubadour #2, the newsletter where I am documenting my summer of regional farmers’ market musical adventures.

I describe myself to the world as a chef, author and musician–this blog is a chance to share all three of those passions in one place.  I hope to see you all at a market somewhere soon!

This week:  HOME! Aka, the Kemptville Farmers’ Market

The Market:

This week I played music at my home market where I was doing double duty in my role as the Community Liaison, a volunteer position on the Board of Directors for the 2019 season.  That means I book all the music for the market, as well as the community table, business table, help plan special events and basically whatever else needs doing if I am able…

with Mayor Nancy Peckford at the market

Kemptville Farmers’ Market started in 2006 in the parking lot of my restaurant, The Branch (which we sold in 2016).  The market started with about five vendors selling out of back of their pickups and has evolved to over fifty seasonal and occasional vendors this season– it is currently located on the B&H Grocery parking lot (200 Saunders St., Kemptville) at the invitation of Jim Beveridge, the store owner, our landlord and champion.    

There is ample parking in the B&H lot — it is a ‘downtown market’ there is a small grassy area, but the vendors set up on a paved lot without much natural shade, to compensate, the market provides a fair amount of tent covered seating near the music, which is housed in a cool cedar sided trailer contraption that is well positioned on a corner facing the market and covered in case of the wet stuff.  Washrooms are available in the adjacent building and dogs and kids are welcome if they are leashed and well behaved (the dogs are the ones needing leashes most of the time, kids only occasionally…)

The Vendors:  

KFM offers a full range of food products and crafts, all locally produced or made.  I could probably name them all in my capacity as board member, co-founder, and incredibly dedicated shopper, but that also means I’d likely forget some and hurt some feelings, which is not what I want to do here– so for this time, I’ll just list the products–

–Concessionaires include Thai Food, Mexican Food (new vendor!  dee-lish!) Indian, Middle Eastern and Perogies…

–Veggies this week:  Asparagus! Greens! I got some wild leeks, fiddleheads, green onions as well, I saw some greenhouse sweet peppers, cukes and tomatoes… my fridge is full!

–Meat vendors were offering chicken, pork, lamb, grass fed beef, duck… I loaded up on duck eggs, two types of sausages (no hormone/antibiotic) some “Korean cut” beef ribs, and pork hocks (of course) from a new pork producer

–honey and maple were on full display, including an actual bee-hive!

–there were pastries and breads in abundance as well, but Dr. Nicole is advising me off of those things at the moment…

— there are a number of crafters making cool stuff… I always forget to look more closely…

–Apples!  Pickles! Jams! Get thee to a cannery!  

Ok– you get the idea… The point is, it’s pretty easy to spend my music earnings in a single trip around this market…

The Music:

As this was the kickoff event, I was able to line up a couple of ringers to play on the day  in addition to my set in the middle…

–Opening the event was ‘Fiddlehead Stew’ — a slightly altered version of the increasingly well known Kemptville based world music fiddle band, ‘Fiddlehead Soup’– this time featuring core members Doug Hendry and Glenna Hunter, but minus lead singer Ursa Meyer, and adding Shawn Yakimovich on fiddle and Elizabeth McNally on vocals to flesh out the usual FS sound with a cool mix of Ceilidh jigs and harmony folk rock… Great fun!  

–Doug Hendry stayed on to join me for my set adding tasteful harmony and his ethereal 12-string open tuned tones to my tunes… we have done the duo show a couple of times now and have developed a few tricks by now that we can spring on the unsuspecting listener…

–Headlining the event was our most famous (sort of) local, Keith Glass (of the Keith Glass Band and 6 time Juno winners Prairie Oyster) playing a solo set that wowed the crowd kept every toe tapping.  I know he is best known for that band he was in, but man do I love his recent originals… his new cd ‘The Easy Way’ has some knockout song craft on it and is available anywhere you find your music.

My music notes from my set:

–adding Ob La Di Ob La Da to the set… how have I not played this perfect farmers’ market song at a market before??

Harvest Moon must have gone over quite well– no less than three souls walked across the lot to tip us during the performance…

–A little girl started dancing her hiney off during Walking Sam, so we kept the spirit going by segueing into the song I wrote for my little dancer Abigail — the song is called “Yes She Does” and basically requires dance moves to happen.

–Doug’s harmonies inspired a very Beatles heavy set… never a bad thing… my favourite was probably ‘Help!’ because we landed the tricky chorus harmony every time (without rehearsal!)

–Someone requested Murray McLauchlan’s ‘Farmer Song’ as another good FM song… will check it out…

The Coffee Situation:

Dire.  We lost our local roaster/vendor a couple of seasons ago and have been waiting for a new recruit… In the meantime, we have Geronimo a few blocks away in one direction and Brewed Awakenings a few blocks away in another–both make excellent organic and fair trade coffees and are both locally owned by swell folks, so I won’t make a vote here.  But if you are like me and too busy to leave the market to get that incredibly important afternoon cup, then KFM– we have a situation.

Story Time:  ‘Distribution Blues’

A few years ago, I took a job as the general manager of a food hub.  Many of you know this and many of you know the name and all that stuff– The 100 mile view is that it was ambitious, really cool, really hard, it had some incredible successes and in the end, well, it didn’t quite work.  I am not writing this to lay any blame– in fact, I think if anything, there are a lot of great things that came out of it– and, in fact, one of the best things, the shared commercial kitchens, is still alive and apparently doing well, which warms every single one of my heart cockles.  Whatever the heck those are.

But local foods distribution–my baby, the biggest part and probably the most important part, like I said, it just didn’t work.

Before taking the job, I was a chef and local food buyer for nearly two decades between my work in California and my time in my own restaurant (I’m still a chef, etc, but I digress…)  In California, I worked for a top tier high end organic foods restaurant — and we were ‘all in’ on getting the freshest and the best… I often visited the farmers on their farms– I met them at the markets, they brought food to our door, we met in the middle… whatever it took — Getting our hands on the best products was our competitive advantage and we absolutely competed to make sure we got it first and often…

After relocating to Kemptville in 2005 to open my restaurant, I kept up that same intensity– before I had even had a house or a restaurant here I had started a rolodex of organic farmers– hitting one or two farmers’ markets every weekend when we came up for a summer before moving here for real.

When the restaurant opened, I drove around to the farms I had discovered and drove weekly to the organic market in Ottawa to stock up for the coming week– networking as I went.  After our first winter, we greeted Spring by starting an impromptu market of our own– offering beer and food to farmers and producers that wanted to set up in our lot on a Sunday afternoon– mostly in a shrewd effort to save dollars on gas and time by having the farmers come to us…

Over time, we got busier, and even as the market we had helped to start grew; with the primarily “hobby” sized farms in my neighbourhood I found I was having an increasingly more difficult time filling my shelves– and the time it took to drive everywhere to fill in the gaps was getting to be out of the question.  

Luckily we discovered a local ‘Mobile Market’ specializing in local food aggregation and distribution– the timing was perfect for us and they were essential in helping us maintain our core brand value while we were outgrowing our neighbourhood farms.  As our buying power grew, so did our reach and our footprint– we were at the farthest tip of the mobile market’s distribution area and many of the new producers we were buying from were as much as an hour or more away from our back door.

Around this time I joined an Ottawa based organization that was concerned with finding solutions to the same kinds of problems I was encountering– albeit with a slightly different mix of stakeholders.  Chefs and farmers were certainly bringing ideas to the table, and talk was emerging about starting a network of some kind to pull regional product into the city– meanwhile, the other seats at the table were filled by folks who brought in other (important) issues ranging from food security to climate change to tourism…

Not much came of the regional food distribution system– the organization did have some major wins, however, especially at the farmers’ market level– building a secondary level of producer only markets and eventually requiring clear signage distinguishing local sellers from resellers at the entrenched, more difficult to shift older city markets.

In time, I heard of a new project that was emerging near me, a ‘food hub’ was coming.  Word was that there was a chef helping to run it, and that there were some serious local food people on the board.  As I learned more, I came to trust that it was a real ‘active’ project, less like the Ottawa effort, and more like our farmers’ market had been. ’Boots on the ground’, as I liked to say.  I was excited, I looked for a way to get involved– honestly, at the time, it looked like a real solution to me. A more local version of the mobile market I loved, possibly something that could tie together that company with the buyers in the Ottawa project I was a part of, who I knew were looking for something like this to bring them more and better local food.  As long as, and I knew this was the hard part, they could figure out how to make it work.

So I came to a board meeting.  It was interesting, but after having felt like I’d been spinning my wheels in the project in the city, I’ll admit that there were some issues I saw right away and I pointed them out.  I don’t know exactly how what happened next happened, but within a few days I was being offered a job…

After some soul searching, and after some serious thought– I decided it was the right thing to do.  I handed off most of my duties at the restaurant, and for the first time in several decades, I moved into an office full time.  To be fair, the office was right in the middle of one of the biggest kitchens I’ve ever been in, but that’s another story…

Over the next few months I set my eyes on the prize– I met with the folks who owned the mobile market and with very little prompting began a project to help them expand their territory to the city… I met with the Ottawa group with a bit less success, but at least we agreed to a bit of a detente until they were closer to their goal of full scale distribution.  I dove in a tried to learn everything I could about distribution, especially local foods distribution up to and including attending a food hub conference in Atlanta.

I learned about industry margins and benchmarks and used everything I had learned in running my restaurant to make our business sensible and conservative and ultimately, I hoped, successful on behalf of all the local producers and buyers we intended to serve.

We had good things happen — the mobile market offered us a deal to merge our businesses and we began moving all of our efforts in that direction.

We had bad things happen — that deal fell apart unexpectedly and we had to find a new truck and driver to continue our service to our emerging and growing clientele.

Good things — in short order, we built a solid core customer base that brought in regular revenue.  

Bad things —  we plateaued. After a long period of growth, we hit a long period of stagnation… there was a lot of hand wringing and extra effort, but it seems like we were just hitting a natural saturation point for what we had to offer and those who were interested in it.

Good — our efforts in developing new clients opened up a window into a a major new client base– over months we completed all the prerequisites to begin selling to two major large scale institutional buyers…

Bad — to meet the demand of the new client, we needed new investment and began to discover our fatal flaw.

Good — a partner with know how and potential capital emerged at the moment we needed the investment.

And Bad — the partner fell through in 11th hour.

Part 2, The Fatal Flaw:

When the partner fell through we had to make a decision very quickly– a quick review of our outstanding payables and receivables had always shown a pretty even split, we were not ‘technically’ losing money.  Our ‘receivables’, or, money owed to us was mostly from buyers who were ‘running late’ on payments, or, perhaps, were used to working with much more generous terms than we, as a small, not-for-profit company, were able to provide.  Our ‘payables’, or money we owed, in this case, were the very farmers we had set out to altruistically serve. Although we were ‘whole’ on paper (minus some start up costs we were yet to recoup), until we got paid the money owed to us, we could not pay the money we owed…

Most companies in our position would have made the sensible move of securing a line of credit and catching up on payables to keep the capital in motion, so to speak– we, however, were a not-for-profit company.  As a condition of this status, our bank, and, to my understanding, any other bank would not give us a line of credit. Which meant our farmers, our most important stakeholders, were left holding the bag.

The merger with the partner would have solved this.  In time, our increased sales from the new clients we had opened up would have solved this.  In the short term however, our ‘altruistic’ decision to do business as a not-for-profit company had become our fatal flaw.

The board carefully considered all the options and did what had to be done.  Operation was suspended, the staff was laid off, the truck returned to the leasing company… A bookkeeper was tasked with collecting the money owed to us and in turn, paying the money we owed.  I was among those laid off, but to my knowledge, the farmers were all paid. The board, sadly, was not. They had all invested a bit of personal money to keep the project afloat during the leanest times, some more than others, and when the decision was made to wind down the project, the board’s investments were last on the list.  

I am over a year away and I am still disappointed– not because we did not make it work, but because we did… The demand was there, the supply was there, we had a strong and loyal client base and we had a host of new clients coming in who were poised to help us expand to become the very distribution network that the area both wanted and needed.  

If only we could figure out how to make it work.