I think it’s safe to say that the east coast of Canada has GOOD farmers’ markets. The population is far less there, but somehow, the farmers’ markets consistently offer an impressive amount, and are very well supported.
Farmers’ market culture goes back centuries in Halifax. In 1750, the first market was started, and now, the Halifax market is the oldest continuously running market in North America, a heritage that Haligonians are certainly proud of.
Halifax currently has two main markets that run: the Historic Farmers’ Market every Saturday, and the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, which is open all week The Seaport market now hosts over 250 vendors throughout the week.
When I lived in Halifax, the weekend farmers’ market was an institution. It wasn’t something you heard about, and perhaps considered attending sometime; you always went, and most likely you saw several people you knew or recognized from all over the city. The old brewery market was my first real introduction to a culture dedicated to supporting local food.
The Historic Market takes place in the old stone building that has housed the Alexander Keith’s Brewery since it began in 1820. The building survived the Halifax explosion of 1917, and in 1983, it became the space where farmers and food producers gathered to exchange goods. It is a beautiful space for the market, with a mix of sunlit courtyards, winding basement corridors, and open rooms. Even after several weeks of attending, I couldn’t always figure out where I was in the market or how to get to my favourite stall. In the days before the Seaport market opened, the weekend market was a continuous crammed hustle; the halls were packed with musicians, vendors, and buyers, and it was easy to lose sight of the friends you’d come with.
Eventually, the market outgrew the space, and organizers saw it as an opportunity to expand the infrastructure for supporting local food. While the busyness of the old market had its charm, it was very packed and hard to maneuver, which is one of the reasons a new market was built. The new location offers more space, a more efficient layout, and is open seven days a week. It’s a vast and sustainability-built structure that’s made more than a few headlines; rainwater is collected for all the market’s non-potable uses (ie. plumbing), there are 600 thermal panels that aid in heating the water and the space, and rooftop wind turbines reduce power costs and emissions by 70%.
There is also a 16,000 square foot ‘green roof’ where native plants dug from Peggy’s cove were re-planted. Its large windows and harbour-front location make it feel a like you’re shopping on a boat.
I think I share many Haligonians’ sense of nostalgia regarding the historic Market, but it’s impossible to say which market is better, and everybody has their own opinion. The old market has a very distinct community feel that was directly related to the brewery space. That feeling can’t easily travel with vendors to the new building. However, the new market is just 3.5 years old, and once 30 years pass, I’m sure citizens of Halifax will feel just as strong of a connection.
One of my favourite vendors is Boates Farm at the Historic market. I make a point of picking up a bottle of their incredible apple cider vinegar whenever I’m in Nova Scotia.