Montreal's markets feed growing appetite for locally-produced food

City hosts four year-round markets and an array of smaller seasonal ones

As health and environmental concerns have fuelled Canadians' appetite for locally sourced and organic food, Montreal's public markets have been quietly reaping the benefits.

The city hosts four year-round markets and an array of smaller seasonal ones where producers showcase their fruits, vegetables, meats and other products.

Although the history of public markets dates back to the city's founding, most of Montreal's current ones originated in the early part of the 20th century.

While the rise of big grocery stores once ate into their profits, they have been booming in recent years thanks to renewed public interest in knowing where food comes from.

"People are more concerned about what they're eating,'' says Lysianne David, a spokeswoman for Montreal's Public Markets, the group that manages the markets.

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"They want to know if it's organic, where it came from, and they don't want products that come from far away.''

Featured market offerings —like farms themselves—shift with the seasons: Christmas trees in December, maple syrup in early spring, and berries and sweet corn during summer months.

Year-round, shoppers can also pick up fresh fish, cuts of meat, cheese, specialty products, prepared food and flowers.

Here are a few of the most popular markets:

With 2.5 million visitors per year, Jean-Talon bills itself as one of North America's largest open-air markets.

It was built in 1933 and owes much of its European feel to the large number of Italian immigrants who migrated to the area in the first part of the 20th century.

The city's liveliest and most crowded market hosts 20 boutiques and dozens of stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables to fresh lobsters and ice cream.

On a recent day, Isabelle Lacroix was selling lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, lettuce and beets—just as her father did in the 1960s.

Down another aisle at a colourful stand representing Intermiel, a bee farm in Mirabel, Que., a vendor cheerfully explained the company's range of unpasteurized honey products.

At the booth for an organic agriculture collective, employee Mia Dansereau said the week's star product was the season's first field-grown eggplants.

"People like to shop at the markets because it lets them see what's new each week, and eat the way the agriculture is done,'' she said.

This market is held in a large art deco building that borders the city's Lachine canal and its bike path, making it a popular stop for southwest residents who can be seen lounging in the public spaces along the waterfront in the summer.

Montreal's second-largest market has a number of stands selling fruits and vegetables, as well as cheese shops, a fish store, bakery and several butchers.

On a July day, Quebec-grown strawberries and raspberries were on prominent display, while a vendor outside did brisk business selling sweet corn out of a red flatbed wagon at $6.50 a dozen.

Inside high-end boutique Les Gourmands du Marche, clients perused full walls dedicated to various olive oils, vinegars and hot sauces.

Tina, an employee who declined to give her last name, said many of the Atwater market's clients come to find something specific.

"It's a great vibe and I really enjoy the clientele,'' she said. "It's very diversified but very knowledgeable, really interested in nice products.''

Located in the eastern borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, this market was closed in the 1960s but was reopened in 1980 thanks to a citizen-led campaign.

It has about 40 outdoor stalls featuring seasonal local products, as well as a dozen permanent stores.

Until September the market is hosting "gourmet Fridays,'' when customers can meet producers and sample featured products such as cheeses, oils and vegan sausage.

The borough of Lachine hosts its own market, as do many suburbs including Longueuil and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.

There are other small seasonal markets scattered around the city, most of them located near subway station entrances.

According to David, these serve mostly a local clientele and each one may offer something different, whether it's flowers, maple products or vegetables.

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