Big yellow taxi was one of the first Canadian songs I learned. A friend of mine had a copy of Ladies of the Canyon where the song was first released. Its environmental theme appealed to me and its catchy chorus became forever etched into my memory. From that point on, any cursory glance at parking lots would bring back Joni Mitchell's playful alliteration:
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.
This song came out in the 70s - when the car was sovereign and cities were designed to mold themselves to its every whim. While parking lots still absorb a compelling component of our cityscapes, their role and presence have been significantly altered in the past half century. They have become inviting canvases upon which urban life can thrive. At least that's what I feel whenever the Peterborough Downtown Farmer's Market resumes its activities.
Martin Oates, one of the two co-chairs of the market, told me that vendors have been using this parking lot for the past five years. Previously, the market spread its stalls on Charlotte, between George and Water Streets. While controversial at first, the move to the Louis Street parking lot was judicious. It gave the market a strong anchor point in the city core and offered an ideal space from which to develop its unique and colourful identity.
It took a couple of years for the market to recover most of its original customers. Quickly, however, it started to grow a wider audience and it now attracts a crowd that far exceeds the capacity it held on Charlotte Street. In fact, the market has become so successful that last year Martin decided to abandon his stall at the Saturday market and focus his energy on the Wednesday one. Popularity is not the only reason why Martin loves being one of the growers at the downtown market.
Martin particularly appreciates the fact that the market brings together local producers only. This means that shoppers can be sure they are buying directly from the growers, bakers and chefs themselves.
Moreover, the size of the market is conducive to creating a powerful sense of place. One can easily interact with all the vendors. The market association has also established a lively rhythm of special events where local chefs showcase their talents. While feeding the festive atmosphere of the market, these special events provide shoppers with new ideas and tips on ways to integrate seasonal ingredients in their cooking.
Come this Wednesday, the Louis Street parking lot will once again illustrate how it can be transformed into a beautiful, vibrant and useful space, thanks to food. And this year there will be a new addition to the market. Nourish will be there, selling its coupons.
Two years ago, Nourish entered into a new partnership with the downtown market. Through the creation of Nourish Coupons redeemable only at the Peterborough Downtown Farmer's Market, we sought to build new connections between participants at A Taste of Nourish and local producers. Our coupons embrace all the key ingredients embedded in our work: building health, community, fairness and the local economy through food.
In the past two seasons the use of our coupons have doubled in reach. This year, we want to test their popularity with the market goers themselves. When shoppers come to the market on Wednesday, they will be able to check our table and chat with us about the food system and ways in which we can work together to address the high rate of food insecurity in our community. Interested shoppers will be able to purchase coupons as gifts for family members, for friends or for participants in our food literacy training. Coupons will be available in bundles of $10, thus echoing the $10 investment in local food campaign.
Every Wednesday from May to October, the Louis Street parking lot will continue to epitomize how an ugly bed of pavement can sprout a vibrant community by being transformed into an inviting space where conversations flow, stories are shared and new connections are made through food. If Joni Mitchell were to visit the market in the coming months, she might be inspired to write a new song, with a more uplifting message, maybe...