There’s no better way to learn about a place, a culture and the people who live there than through food.
That’s why, when I’m visiting a farmers’ market, I’m not just going to buy ‘stuff’. I want to indulge all of my senses. I love experiencing the happy hustle and bustle of friends, neighbours and strangers passing by; the bright colours of freshly-picked fruit and vegetables; the clean smell of handmade soap wafting through the air as I walk past rows of neatly displayed bars; chatting with the producers; and getting to savour the local flavours with as many delicious samples as I can get my chubby little fingers on.
Here in the northern Ottawa Valley, farmers’ markets start popping up in towns and villages across the region in mid-May and run straight through until the end of October. Farmers’ markets are a fun and exciting way to shop more responsibly, reconnect with the food you eat, get to know your local farmers and make new friends while enjoying farm-fresh seasonal produce at a great price.
What to watch for?
- Wild Canadian Chaga: Known as the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms,” chaga is a powerful antioxidant-rich fungus that’s been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Chaga grows best on birch trees in rugged cold climates and can be found growing wild throughout the Ottawa Valley. When prepared as a tea, chaga has a mild coffee-like taste with a hint of cocoa.
- Wild Mushrooms: The Ottawa Valley’s unique ecosystem is the perfect breeding ground for a large variety of edible wild mushrooms such as boletes or porcini mushrooms, chanterelles, oysters, lobster mushrooms and many more! Look for freshly foraged mushrooms as well as artisan products like wild mushroom seasoned salt and jars of pickled wild mushrooms.
- Butter Tarts: Nothing tastes more like ‘home’ than butter tarts. With their flaky pastry shells and sticky-sweet caramel filling, butter tarts are a uniquely Canadian treat.
- Fresh-Roasted Organic Fair-Trade Coffee: Artisan-roasted coffee houses and suppliers are becoming more and more popular across the Valley. My personal fav is Midnight Express from Eganville’s Engine House Coffee. This rich, full-bodied and delicious brew is the perfect pick-me-up for those early morning market runs. Engine House offers freshly roasted, fair-trade, organic coffee beans. Make sure to watch out for them at farmers’ markets, events and various shops across the Valley.
- Geological Finds: The Ottawa Valley boasts a world-famous geological heritage. Keep an eye out for interesting souvenirs and jewellery featuring ancient fossils or semi-precious stones and gemstones such as quartz, tourmaline and amazonite.
Check out my round-up of the best farmers’ markets in the upper portion of the Ottawa Valley:
Where? John Street from Rock Lane (or Madawaska Street) to Elgin Street, Arnprior
When? Sundays from late May to the end of September. 9 am – 2 pm
Deep in the heart of Arnprior’s newly revitalized downtown core, this Sunday market runs along John Street from Rock Lane to Elgin Street. The Arnprior Market has it all. Buy crochet knits and macramé, treat yourself with essential oils and luxurious all-natural soaps, and get your bling on with one-of-a-kind hand-crafted jewellery.
For the foodies, rows of unpasteurized honey sparkle alongside farm-fresh eggs, locally grown organic vegetables and microgreens. Don’t feel like cooking? That’s okay! You’ll find everything you need to slam together the perfect charcuterie board such as small-batch artisan cheeses, cured meats, jars of savoury relish, and a mouth-watering array of pickled and black garlic products from Kings Creek Garlic Farm.
Don’t forget to grab one of Grandma Garrett’s tasty homemade pies or some of her famous squares for dessert before you go!
Where? The Barry’s Bay Railway Station, 19503 Opeongo Line, Barry’s Bay
When? Fridays from late May to early-October. 11 am – 4 pm
The Barry’s Bay Farmers’ Market is held at The Railway Station, the community’s former train station. This faithfully restored building also features an art gallery, museum and a visitor centre.
One of the things I love about this market is that all of the vendors grow, produce and create their products within 50 km of the market guaranteeing quality freshness and a truly ‘local’ experience. Find between 25 to 30 vendors selling farm-to-market meat products, fruit and vegetables, maple syrup, jams, jellies and other preserves, as well as artwork, jewellery and handmade crafts.
Searching for that special one-of-a-kind item? Keep an eye out for Mike Desrochers. Using traditional blacksmithing methods, Mike creates beautiful works of art by re-forging old and discarded farm and industrial metals. Find hand-forged knives, candlestick holders, intricately-designed garden ornaments and much more.
Where? Astrolabe Road, Cobden Fairgrounds, Cobden
When? Saturdays from May to October. 8 am – 12 pm
The Cobden Farmers’ Market is one of the best in the Valley. Featuring more than 20 vendors, this market has a little bit of everything. Purchase seasonal fruits and vegetables, maple syrup, local honeys, preserves, baked goods and farm-raised meats. You can also find flowers and shrubs, wooden furniture, as well as handmade jewellery, all-natural soaps, crafts and paintings by local artists.
After the market, you can whet your whistle at Whitewater Brewing Co. Open seven days a week, the brewery offers tasting tours every Saturday at 3 pm sharp. Make sure you call ahead to book your spot!
Where? Corner of Mill Street and Highway 62, Madawaska Valley
When? Saturdays from mid-June to mid-October. 8 am – 12 pm
Deep in the heart of Cottage Country lies the Combermere Farmers’ Market. The Saturday morning market features the usual array of seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as grass-fed beef and free-range chicken and pork products, organic wild-flower honey, maple butter, potted plants and cut flowers, hand-turned wooden bowls, live music and even a blacksmith!
After the market closes, make the most of your trip by visiting the Mission House Museum and Gallery or head up to the Sinking of the Mayflower Steamship lookout for a view of the lake where the Mayflower sank back in 1912. The boat went down in a snowstorm soon after leaving Barry’s Bay. Of the twelve people aboard, only three of the crew survived by clinging to a floating coffin! The story about how one dead man saved the lives of three was made famous after being reported worldwide by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”
Where? Town Hall, 100 Deep River Rd, Deep River
When? Every 2nd Saturday from the end of May to early October. 10 am – 1pm
Deep River’s bi-weekly market features a wide variety of artisan food products as well as quality arts and crafts including wooden accessories, jewellery and paintings. Keep an eye out for local delicacies such as freshly-baked breads and pickled wild mushrooms. Nestled along the Ottawa River, visitors can drive to the market by car or travel by boat with the marina just a short walk away.
I love starting my day off with a trip to the market where I can chat with the vendors and sample the latest fare before heading down to the water to soak up the sunshine for a picnic lunch. If you’re looking to make a day of it, Deep River is a nature-lover’s paradise featuring a number of pristine beaches, walking trails, and outfitter shops offering everything you’ll need for your next fishing or camping adventure. The Silver Spoon Trails are my personal favourites with trails between 1 – 8 km to choose from and my day would not be complete without a stop by Freddie’s chip stand half-way between the Town Hall and the river front for the best poutine this side of Ottawa.
Where? Legion Memorial Field, 8 Foran Street, Eganville
When? Fridays from mid-June to early October. 2pm – 6 pm
Eganville is one of the Valley’s best kept secrets. Carved into a deep limestone valley at the Fifth Chute of the Bonnechere River, there are plenty of opportunities to explore historical museums, galleries and walking trails. Relax by the river-front or take in a tour of the Bonnechere Caves to discover stalactites and fossils in limestone caves.
The Eganville Farmers’ Market features local vendors offering a decent selection of local meats, preserves, freshly-baked goods, seasonal fruits and vegetables. You can also find local honey and bees wax products, maple syrup, seedlings and potted plants as well as handmade products from local artisans.
Make sure to check out the various special events and theme-days where you can combine your market shopping with vintage car shows, or free kayak and bike rentals to explore the area. During July and August, parents can relax and stroll through the market while the children are kept entertained with story-time events and craft activities.
Where? 86 Queen Street, Killaloe
When? Saturdays from late June to October. 9 am – 12 pm
For more than a decade, the Killaloe Farmer’s Market has been a meeting point for locals and visitors alike. This bustling open-air market is based in a historical farm setting and boasts more than 22 vendors. Here you’ll find locally raised beef, pork, chicken and lamb, gluten-free baked goods, pickles and preserves, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and more.
When you’ve finished the rounds, sit and enjoy a cup of freshly-roasted free trade coffee and a hearty breakfast under the canopy at the outdoor café while listening to live music every Saturday from 10 am until noon, and don’t forget to check out the Hoch Barn Flea Market for vintage finds and antique treasures or visit the Pioneer Farmhouse Museum for a glimpse of the past.
Participate in a Wild Mushroom Foray or take a Foraging Walk with Fern & Fungi! Fern & Fungi is a family-run apothecary in Killaloe. They offer small-batch, artisan edible and medicinal products crafted from native plants, trees, and fungi.
Where? 1716 Calabogie Road, Burnstown
When? Fridays from the July to mid-October. 2 pm – 7 pm
The Madawaska River Farmers’ Market is a charming little venue featuring weekly staples of homemade bread, berries, vegetables, garlic, as well as local honey and beeswax products. Depending on the week, you might also find a variety of baked goods, decadent chocolates, meat products as well as apples and fresh corn on the cob in the fall.
Where? Victoria Street, Pembroke
When? Wednesdays and Saturdays from mid-May to mid-October. 8:30 am – 1 pm
‘Homegrown, Handmade’ is the motto of the Pembroke Farmers’ Market which boasts roughly 30 vendors. Vendors offer fresh local produce, handmade crafts, natural soaps and skin-care products, as well as one-of-a-kind clothing items and fashion accessories. Don’t forget to pick-up some scrumptious Mennonite baked goods while you’re there. Delish!
Make a day of it by stopping by Hugli’s Blueberry Ranch & Country Gift Store. Open from May until December 31st, Hugli’s is one of my favourite spots in the Valley. Here you’ll find unique gift ideas and loads of mouth-watering local products like Laurentian Brew Kabucha; organic, hand-picked, indigenous herbs from Algonquin Tea Company; the most addictively delicious made-in-house fudge; and of course everything ‘blueberry’. From hot pepper jelly and salsa to blueberry BBQ sauce and ice cream, Hugli’s has got you covered.
Don’t forget to pack a cooler-box! You won’t want to miss the experience of wandering through perfectly manicured fields to pick your own blueberries from July until late August.
Where? Renfrew Armouries, 115 Veterans Memorial Blvd, Renfrew
When? Saturdays from mid-May to mid-October. 9 am – 12 pm
Deep in the heart of the Ottawa Valley lies one of the oldest and longest running farmers’ markets in the region. The Renfrew Farmers’ Market was established in 1972 by Will Beimers, a Dutch immigrant. Over the years, the market has grown to include a number of vendors selling seasonal fruit and vegetables, locally raised beef, pork and lamb as well as maple candies, honey and beeswax products, butter tarts and other baked goods. You can also find seedlings, potted plants and a variety of hand-crafted items.
Where? Wilno Garden Gallery, 19 Borutski St, Wilno
When? Sundays from late June to early September. 11 am – 3 pm
Dating back to the early 1800’s, the Hamlet of Wilno is Canada’s oldest Polish Settlement. Over the years, Wilno has retained much of its rich Polish culture which can be seen in the traditional arts and crafts on display at the Wilno Farmers’ Market. You can also watch live circus acts and fire-starting demonstrations, participate in drumming workshops, group yoga, or even learn how to hula hoop during your visit. With loads to see and do, this market is great for adults and kids alike!
Discover more about Wilno’s proud past at the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum or along one of the Heritage Society’s self-guided walking tours. When the weather is nice, I enjoy combining my visit with a walking tour up to the Shrine Hill lookout, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and forests.
Of course, no visit to Wilno would be complete without stopping by the Wilno Tavern for a cold beer and a traditional Polish buffet of jumbo perogies and cabbage rolls made in-house, with a side of pickled herring, sausage and sauerkraut, and authentic spiced red cabbage. Na zdrowie!
Storyteller: Tara MacDonald. Hometown: Deep River, ON
Tara is a writer and communications specialist with a passion for food, photography and travel. Over the years she’s lived in 10 different countries and traveled to countless more. But as the saying goes, there’s no place like home! She’s excited to explore local destinations and regional cuisine while sharing her experiences as she re-discovers her home country.