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By Michael Lowe

The St. Catharines Farmers Market has been drawing local farmers and vendors to the downtown market square since the early 1860s. At risk of dating myself, I recall mornings in the 1960s when the then open-air market square was a beehive of activity.

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These days the market is a pleasant, year-round destination for early morning shoppers. At this time of year, there may be fewer farmers selling fresh, locally grown produce, but there are still plenty of reasons to wander about the glass enclosure in search of tasty products.

Breakfast on this particular Saturday morning consists of a fresh sesame seed bagel from Johnny’s Fresh Bagels. Vendor John Chabot says he started making his own bagels because, as he puts it, “You couldn’t buy a good bagel around here.”

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John Chabot of Johnny's Fresh Bagels. All photos by Michael Lowe.

He has been selling his version, which he says is “a hybrid between a Montreal style and a New York style,” at the market for three years now. Slightly sweet from the addition of a touch of honey, the bagels are first boiled and then baked.

The result is a chewy textured bagel with a thin, crisp outer shell. Toasted, with either butter or cream cheese, a single bagel costs just $2 or you can purchase them by the dozen to enjoy at home.

My morning bagel is washed down with a glorious cup of coffee ($1.50) from Kurtis Coffee. I sip the rich, dark satisfying “Market Blend” java while chatting with Voula Carriere.

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Voula Carriere of Kurtis Coffee.

She explains that all the coffees available are fair trade, certified organic, 100% Arabica and shade grown. When asked about a coffee labeled Cafe Feminino. “The coffee is grown by a co-op of women producers,” says Carriere.

Cafe Feminino is sold only to female agents and a portion of the proceeds go back to the producers to support the growers and their families. For more information on Kurtis Coffee products or the co-op project see Kurtis Coffee or Café Feminino.

Don’t hesitate to stop at the Truly Organic Foods stall. If the array of natural products is not enough to induce a feeling of well being, a chat with the cheerful, energetic owner Lee Harlan, most certainly will.

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Lee Harlan of Truly Organic Foods.

When asked how she got interested in natural foods, Harlan says: “It started as a personal journey after a serious accident. I began to research looking for natural alternatives to medicine.” Healthy, raw, vegan food products, some of which I had never heard of, are on display on Harlan’s table and she can tell you all about their origin and recommended use. Visit their web site here, for more information and a list of available products.

If fresh-baked bread and pastries are on your shopping list you can’t pass up Vineland’s de la terre bakery. Bakery employee Jim Hatch has baskets full of crusty bread on display and some tantalizing sweet treats.

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Pastries by de la terre.

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Jim Hatch of de la terre bakery.

The pastries are all made from spelt flour and I can attest that the brownies and butter tarts are the best I’ve ever eaten. Into my shopping bag goes one chocolate brownie ($2.50) and a loaf of cheese and herd bread ($6). A complete list of de la terre products can be found here.

In search of sweet works of art? Visit chef Jean Serb of Chocolate Expressions where mouth-watering, colorful, chocolate-laced treats are for sale.

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Chocolate Expressions canolis.

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Chef Jean Serb of Chocolate Expressions.

Items like chocolate-coated pretzels, crispy, chocolate-filled canolis and other pastries are waiting to tempt your sweet tooth. The Chocolate Expressions booth has been a fixture at the market for over 10 years. If you can’t make it to the market, visit the store located at 27 James Street or contact Chocolate Expressions at (905) 704-1348 or belgian@vaxxine.com.

My next stop is at the Niagara Honey stall which is watched over by owners Ivan and Maria Smajla who have been in the honey business for seven years now.

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Ivan & Maria Smajla of Niagara Honey.

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Pure, unpasteurized honey from their own beehives is waiting to be added to your favourite recipes. Choose from wildflower, creamed, blueberry or, my favourite, dark and delicious buckwheat honey.

Ivan Smajla shares a story of how bear hunters use buckwheat bread infused with buckwheat honey as bait. I can’t help but snap up a jar of bee pollen- purported to be beneficial for treating various ailments — just because I think it tastes good. Contact Niagara Honey at (905) 734-7408 or ismajl@sympatico.ca.

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Giovanni Fieromonte with grilled sausages.

Vendor Giovanni Fieromonte offers delicious cured and smoked meat products from TJ Meats, located in Vaughan. He has been at the market for two years and on their tables you will find all types of traditional meat products — and the best part is — samples are available. If you’re in the mood for an early lunch, the juicy sausages hot off the grill are sure to satiate your carnivorous cravings.

Once again I open my bag and add a huge stick of smoked German salami coated with cracked black peppercorns ($15) to my collection of goodies.

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Chef Linzey Guppy of Real Roti.

By now, I’m in the mood for a little take-out lunch so I pop over to Real Roti to see what they sell. Chef Linzey Guppy tells me that his authentic Caribbean cuisine has been around for five years.

Choose from curried dishes, such as chicken, pork, goat and shrimp, Jamaican meat patties or jerk chicken ($2.25- $9.50). I watch in anticipation as Chef Guppy packs jerk chicken, rice and beans and curried vegetables into a container, which I carefully place into my shopping bag.

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Pam Borozny (Beamers).

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Hot apple cider at Beamers.

One last stop is at a stall that has been a fixture at the market for 90 years. Beamers is a name many will instantly recognize. At this time of year their tables are filled with various varieties of apples — they grow over 30 varieties. Carol-Lyn Davis is the latest generation to run the family business that was established in 1847. The 55-acre farm provides a vast, seasonal selection of produce that will make appearances at the market.

In season you will find nine varieties of lettuce, but on this cool winter day a taste of warm, mulled apple cider sure hits the spot. You can contact Beamers Farm at (905) 658-2168.

Throughout the morning pleasant greetings are exchanged between customers and vendors giving the market a real neighborhood feel. So it seems fitting that I should discover an old friend of mine, Pam Borozny, helping out at the Beamers stall.

We chat about the good old days at the market  before I leave, happy that in these hectic times, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Market hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.