“It’s a good area of town. I volunteer out of the church here so it kind of just worked out to do the [shop] here,” said Vanessa Ruby, a volunteer at Harvest Hope, a group running youth and family services program helping people in recovery homes settle back into society. Their jam and tart business is at the Cambridge Farmers’ Market.
The Cambridge Farmers’ Market started around 1830, and is one of the oldest farmers’ markets in Canada. In May of 1836, the Township of Galt’s founder, William Dickson, planned to establish the town centre, now Queen’s Square. He planned to include an area called the Market Place, but it was shot down as villagers felt their town centre was well established and there was no need to move it.
In the 1880s, the separated vegetable and poultry market reunited into one shop, the one well-known today: at Dickson and Ainslie street. The meat section of the market was not included until around 1896, when a two-storey structure was added.
The market has suffered daily wear and tear. The flood in 1974 caused $35,000 in damages which abruptly closed the market from May to August.
Currently, he two-storey building still stands, along with a one-storey structure built around the same time. The market continues to brim with a range of customers; from the older generation to the younger one. Customers bustle up and down the street, walking past a variety of products.
Then there is the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. It was established in April of 1975 by eight farmers: which included Jim Wideman, Jacob Shantz, Ross Shantz, and Milo Shantz. The Shantz families have managed the facility for over forty years.
Similar to the Cambridge Farmers’ Market, St. Jacobs was destroyed by a fire in 2013. The fire caused about $2 million in damages. A temporary structure was created in October, and fully reopened in December.
To this day, St. Jacobs stands proudly at Woolwich. According to CBC, the market would see upwards of 10,000 visitors over the course of a normal market week. A normal market week usually being open two days of the week.
St. Jacobs has taken precautions due to COVID-19. They have a limit of 300 people, and there are no longer hot food vendors. Ruby said that besides the masks and gloves, the customer limit at the Cambridge Farmers’ Market has not been affected.
Despite St. Jacobs’ restrictions, going there in person, one would not notice the difference. While the Cambridge Farmers’ Market has less density and more walking space, St. Jacobs can be tightly packed.
“I think [Cambridge is] a good area of town, it’s easy to get to,” Ruby said. “I think it’s a good location.”
If markets are not the acquired taste, then there are other businesses surrounding the markets that are interesting and entertaining.
For the Cambridge Farmers’ Market, one can visit the Southworks Antiques, where they can walk into history and buy products. Or the Grand River, where there is not only a view, but occasionally a group of ducks to observe. Or iBowl, where one’s shirt and shoes can glow and can bowl to their heart’s content.
For St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, there is the St. Jacobs Outlet, which includes stores like Levi’s, Laura and the Toy Building Zone: where children can play with enormous amounts of Lego and can host party rooms and activities. There are also two antique stores to choose from: Market Road Antiques and St. Jacobs Antique Market.
Overall, both markets have their positives and negatives, but supporters of each do share one thing in common. They agree that although local products can be more expensive, it is worth it.
As Ruby said. “I think it’s more popular to shop in a grocery store but the food here is much better.”