The Regent Park Farmers' Market aims to bring fresh food to a neighbourhood that hasn't always enjoyed many amenities.
Wednesday afternoon, against a backdrop of towering cranes and half-constructed buildings, the Regent Park Farmers’ Market officially welcomed its first customers. The launch event featured 20 vendors, speeches, live musical performances, and plenty of fresh and prepared edibles.
“We’re so winging it,” said organizer Cookie Roscoe, standing on unpaved Regent Park Boulevard, where the vendors were set up. Roscoe said she was initially worried that the market would be overshadowed by St. Lawrence Market’s farmers’ market, at Jarvis and Front streets. “I actually talked to [former mayor] David Miller, and he said there should be room for a farmers’ market in every neighbourhood in the city,” she said.
The ongoing revitalization of Regent Park is a six-phase project intended to transform the neighbourhood, which has traditionally been a low-income public housing project, into a mixed-use development with more local services and amenities (Regent Park existed for decades without a local bank or high school). The farmers’ market is one of many efforts to open up public space and create opportunities for local businesses.
The inaugural market featured everything from fresh produce, to Cuban-spiced crostini, to tandoori chicken biryani. Some vendors, like The Neighbourhood Farm, a local retailer, were selling at a farmers’ market for the first time. For other vendors, Regent Park is just another downtown market. “Trust me, markets are a lot more fun and relaxing than operating a restaurant,” said Ali (he didn’t give a last name), owner of a business called Fish Shak, who took his operation on the road several years ago.
Local food-focused community groups were also on the scene. Four young women from Green Thumbs Growing Kids were eager to talk about their educational, hands-on programming in local schools. “It’s a good idea to get kids growing [plants] at a young age,” said Bishara, a program volunteer. The group’s table featured fragrant lavender, pea shoots, and calendula salve, all locally produced.
Chris Klugman, owner of the Paintbox Bistro, a social enterprise that employs and trains area residents, gave us a tour of his catering kitchen, where market vendors can prepare their goods for free. “We’re using the market as a pilot for our incubator project,” Klugman said. “Our hope is that many food businesses will be born and grow here.” Klugman told us, “There’s still a stigma around Regent Park—we want people to come and experience the neighbourhood for themselves.”
Local resident Samy Abraham, who’s been in the neighbourhood for five years, was impressed with the market debut. “I love the atmosphere, the fresh smells. There are more opportunities to meet neighbours here than at the grocery store,” Abraham told us. The completion of the adjacent Regent Park Aquatic Centre and hundreds of housing units is likely to attract more visitors over time. In the meantime, vendors can try to tempt the many construction workers in the area, some of whom passed through on their breaks to sample the new market.
The Regent Park Farmers’ market is open every Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m.