Last April, three days after Zach and I had finally tucked into our new Stratford apartment, I had begun writing about what I thought the summer would play out as. I thought perhaps the summer might be known as The Summer We Opened Canned Goods With A Screwdriver. The Summer We Slept In The Toddler Bed. It might be known as The Summer Zach Drove 5 ½ Hours Each Sunday To Visit For 48 Hours. (To explain all this, we were newlyweds, with this being our first place together, and a looming year of immigration processes ahead of us.) The summer might create fond memories as The Summer I Ate Only Carrots and Granola, and The Summer We Credited A Bag of Coffee And Subsequently A Coffee Grinder With All Our Pennies In Rent.
We had spent our first days touring around Stratford, Ontario, exploring and settling into our new town, and our new space. We were smitten. Zach and I knew how gorgeous our new place was, and how fortunate we were to have found it. “Big, wooden,” I had thought that day as I stared at the baseboards and window frames, while contemplating the curtains I would soon take down to open up the space even more. “It has the personality of a summer cottage,” I had written. And with the curtainless windows, a soothing breeze passed through from the quiet street to our kitchen, all summer long.
I had been dropping off resumes – so many carefully penned and purposeful resumes – to various businesses around town, in the hopes that I would find something to balance out my new musical ventures (my artistic career could go well, and could not go well.) I was overly persistent at the local craft pizza restaurant, unacknowledged in the theatre crowd, and even more ashamed by my destructive clumsiness at Your Local Market Co-Op, where I knocked over all of the bottles of dish soap as I reached across the free-standing shelving unit for some hand soap. To solidify my presence in this grocery store, we then had to run back around the shop returning our groceries since we were still using that ridiculous credit card, and we needed either debit or cash. I was a little embarrassed. On our way out, noticing a Help Wanted sign, I said “You’re hiring?” to which the young cashier replied, “Yes, for a grocery delivery bike rider” and it was decided that I would drop off my resume the next day. I departed with a “Maybe if I get a job delivering groceries, I’ll be able to afford to buy some of my own!”
And, That Summer Groceries We Did Afford.
Your Local Market Co-Op in Stratford, Ontario opened up to offer local goods in June of 2011. One year later, when I joined the crew, I was welcomed into a store flourishing with plump, colourful, fresh produce from Ontario farms, and most often, Perth County farms. Laurie Neubrand would carry in bushels of apples, bags of crisp lettuce heads, squash that cooked up so creamy, onions, potatoes, spinach, garlic, cabbage, kale, and any other fruit or vegetable that grew healthy and plentiful as the seasons changed. Ryan from Loco Fields would bundle up a balanced and varied array of field greens for salads. Silky eggplants and spicy peppers were grown on Soiled Reputation’s farm. And a man in town named Peter Blush, would forage for mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns. Thick and creamy, tart and biting cheeses came from Montforte Dairy, with Wednesdays quickly turning into my favourite day because of a morning delivery from Bright’s Cheese of spicy chili-flecked havarti, cheese curds for homemade poutine, and possibly the most popular cheese in all of the shop – Bright’s extra-old cheddar. We even carried locally produced paneer and queso fresco cheeses from Your Local Dairy in Ingersoll, Ontario. Pizza sauces, crushed tomatoes with basil, and tomato pastes all canned in my hometown of Maidstone filled our middle shelves. Addictive tortilla chips from Barrie’s Asparagus, which offers a whole line of groceries containing asparagus as the main ingredient, filled so many of our countertops and shelves, because they were often sold-out. The water buffalo hamburgers and sausages, the pork chops, the breakfast links, the rainbow trout, kept our freezers full. Our dairy coolers were stocked with milks ranging from goat to sweet Guernsey, and all of the butterfats in between. And the fresh baked bread. Waking up early to open up a shop and walking into that store which already smells of baking bread, is what many people possibly long for. I know I felt advantageous. Each day simple white and whole wheat loaves and baguettes were baked, with other flavours lining the shelves depending on the weekday – herb and cheese on Mondays, red fife on Fridays – with the grains and most ingredients originating in Ontario too. The goal for the co-op has been that everything sold is produced from as close to Stratford as possible, but always from within Ontario. A model for economic and environmental sustainability.
Reducing waste was part of that sustainability. We all monitored produce and dairy, and any groceries that were coming close to their shelf life, and also if there was too much of a particular item (sometimes there are just TOO MANY TOMATOES), these ingredients would all be whipped together into a wrap, a soup, or a specialty meal that would be served at the take-out counter at the back of our store.
And Saturday mornings was my bike day. I would pack up boxes small or large, brimming with a variety of produce, and sometimes a loaf of bread, and deliver the goodies around town by bicycle and trailer.
This little market covered it all.
A grocery store for locals, for tour groups, for seasonal actors and theatre crew-members, Your Local Market Co-Op was started up by four food-loving Stratford locals. Katelyn Veere, Heather and Chris Walker, and Drea Kerr, chose a co-op business model, based on member ownership, so that the co-op could continue to be run in the community even if the four of them ventured into other projects and pursuits in the future. Chris Walker initially started selling the bread that he now bakes for the co-op at Stratford’s weekend farmer’s market, to raise funds for a gardening initiative his wife and him were creating. The bread was so desired, so sought-after, that after ideas were passed around and recruitment work was done, the four founding members opened up shop.
The co-op is a community staple. Throughout the weekdays I would be greeting Stratford locals who were off to work for the morning, and who were stopping in to grab an espresso at the back, with maybe a yogurt parfait or bacon grilled cheese for breakfast. At lunch I would be greeting actors on break from rehearsal, satiating their hunger and achieving energy in a mushroom and kale wrap for lunch, with zingy kombucha to quench their thirst. The weekends brought in a bounty of tourists, who coveted the baked goods, the fresh bread and the Ontario berries. Visitors from Michigan and Ohio always stocked up on raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and if they were lucky and timed it right, concord grapes at their most bright and juicy. Topped off with a house-baked brownie, a huge cookie, or a butter tart from Madelyn’s Diner (butter tarts drive people to guilt, greed, and astonishment, which we can talk about at length another time), visitors would have had a very pleasant, and all-encompassing, Southern Ontario experience.
I find myself these days missing all of this. I miss the town and the fresh baked bread. I miss my neighbors, my delivery bike, and being a market girl. I miss putting the days’ specials outside on the chalkboard, letting people know that “Rhubarb is IN!” and sweeping the front sidewalk, with a chance to say “Good Morning” to passersby.
For you, if you can make this The Summer We Visited Stratford, Ontario, know that if you spend a night or two in Lofts 99, maybe catch a play, rest down by the river with the swans and paddleboats, eat a great dinner at Pazzo, Foster’s or Mercer Hall, and at some point grab early morning coffee and lunch goodies at Your Local Market Co-Op (with berries for your travel home), you will have glimpsed, and hopefully felt, this wonderful calm and charm that I was so lucky to be a part of.
Your Local Market Co-Op