It’s no secret that I love farmers’ markets. The earliest one I can remember was in Halifax, where I grew up. It’s also North America’s oldest farmers’ market. It was in an old brick building downtown that used to be the Alexander Keith’s brewery. I loved the energetic bustle of the market – it was always filled with people, all working their way through the warren-like maze of rooms stuffed with vendors.
The year I moved back to Halifax to go to school I visited the market a few times. In fact, I did my first ever radio story on the new building the market was planning. Many vendors felt the old brewery building was just too packed and too crowded. Some shoppers found it claustrophobic. Other people loved the historic, chaotic character of the market and didn’t want to give it up. (Tension! Perfect for a journalist.)
When I did that story almost four years ago, the new building was supposed to open the following summer. Instead, it got delayed two years and opened in August 2010. When I was home for my sister’s wedding last summer, I got to visit the old market one last time. I really loved that market, but I wasn’t a fan of having to push my way through the crowds. If you were actually trying to do your weekly shopping, I can see it taking a very long time. I was looking forward to the new building.
I visited the new market with my Mom on a cloudy, chilly day in July. It’s a short walk from the old building, smack dab on the water at the south end of downtown.
The building is impressive. Not only because of the harbour location, but because of its focus on the environment. Panels inside explain how much energy the building is saving with its four wind turbines and geothermal heating. It also boasts a green roof and a living wall. The building has LEED Platinum certification, one of the highest environmental designations in the world.
It’s wonderful to stroll down the aisles with the harbour just outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. There are two floors of vendors and the entire building boasts soaring, warehouse-type ceilings . The second floor is more of a mezzanine-type area, where you can look over the railing to the floor below. I read that this new market is double the space the old market had.
The building has some permanent store fronts and is open six days a week, with the farmers’ market held on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. We went on a Wednesday and there were only a handful of vendors. I’d love to see it on a bustling Saturday too.
The one stall I really cared about was there, though – Schoolhouse Gluten-free Gourmet. I read about this business online before the trip and I knew I had to check it out.
It’s a small bakery run by a family in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, and they visit the market twice a week. Not only did they have the cutest little stall, their treats were great. I wanted to try so much stuff that Mom kindly treated me to some of it. It’s not every day you come across a gluten-free bakery!
We ate our pumpkin muffins right away. Though very crumbly, they were moist and had a rich, delicious pumpkin flavour. We tried two kinds of cookies – ginger and chocolate chip. The ginger were definitely superior. They were thick and chewy, as good as any ginger cookie I’ve ever had. The chocolate chip tasted a bit like rice flour and were pretty dense, but not bad.
I was really impressed with the cinnamon-raisin bread. It passed my two tests for great GF bread: it didn’t require toasting to enjoy, and it was good even after the first day I bought it. Definitely the best GF bread I’ve tried. Too bad this bakery isn’t closer!
Although it would have been great to see more vendors, we had such fun exploring the building. There’s a small deck with benches on the second floor. But the best part is the deck on the roof. It’s so wonderful to emerge from the building to an amazing view of the harbour and the two islands – George’s and McNab’s. I also loved the garden up there, the plants creating so many different colours and patterns.
We also had the most delicious lunch – gluten-free buckwheat crepes with egg, cheese and ham. I was really happy that the crepe stand not only offered gluten-free batter, but the women working there took great care cleaning off the cooking surfaces and using GF utensils to cook my crepe. I devoured the hearty crepe with the salty, peppery filling.
The old market in the brewery building is still open, since some vendors didn’t want to make the switch to the new place. I’m curious how many people still visit the old one. Of course it has its charm, but I found the new location so spectacular that I’m wondering how long the old one will survive.
Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market
1209 Marginal Rd.
Schoolhouse Gluten-free Gourmet
7014 Highway #3, R.R. 2, Mahone Bay