Circle Gichigamiing for surprising markets
Jason Maloney for Agri-View
THUNDER BAY, Ontario, Canada – Many people are surprised to find a vibrant community of farmers, market gardeners, and artisans in far northern Wisconsin. They consider the area near the south shore of Lake Superior to be a cold, arid place with snow on the ground for 10 or more months each year. Surely there could be little agriculture even farther north – north of Wisconsin.
Those who drive north from Wisconsin through the Arrowhead region of Minnesota to reach Canada enjoy rugged rocky coastlines, views of an inland freshwater sea, waterfalls and deep forest. Approaching the international border at Pigeon River, the scenery becomes a bit more rugged, with beautiful dark cliffs appearing along Minnesota Route 61. The road changes to Ontario Provincial Highway 61 heading north towards Thunder Bay. But a little further, as people arrive in the Slate River Valley, something amazing happens. The part of the rocky cliffs – and suddenly beautiful fields and farms dot the landscape. Signs along the road warn travelers of shops and farm produce, some available year-round. Many people in the United States forget that our neighbor, Canada, has huge tracts of land devoted to agriculture.
Do you remember visiting your grandmother or a favorite aunt when you were little? She would always have a special dish or treat. She would look you in the eye and tell you how she did it. She may have taught you how to do this when you were older. Sometimes she would share vegetables or fruits that she had grown. The food was special; he tasted so good that he created indelible memories made of love.
The farmers, market gardeners and artisans that surround Thunder Bay have a local clientele. In addition to small stores and seasonal farmers’ markets, many producers sell directly to consumers at Thunder Bay Country Market; it is located at the corner of May Street and Northern Avenue. The market, in an exhibition hall called the Dove building, is open every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. Walking through the two floors of stalls and stalls is like being at the county fair. Many people already know each other; some have been coming for 25 years. Everyone is friendly. Producers and artisans are ready to tell how their products and goods are made, mainly by them.
The Province of Ontario defines local as coming from the vast province of Ontario. Many local markets define local as coming from 100 or 200 miles away. But because of the vast distances and settlements on the edge of the huge boreal forest that borders Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay Country Market defines local as coming from Ontario’s western border with Manitoba to Wawa on the east end of Lake Superior. Most of the goods at the market, however, come from lands near Thunder Bay.
Walter Schep and his family own Thunder Oak Cheese Farm. His parents, both members of cheese-making families in Holland, came to Canada in 1981 and started a dairy farm. The family has been making cheese south of Thunder Bay since 1995. One early fall Saturday, he stood in front of a stand with a dazzling array of cheeses.
“I own Thunder Oak Cheese with my wife,” he said. “My brother produces milk on his side of the farm; he milks about 75 Holsteins. We mainly make Gouda and Swiss as well. We have three different ages of Gouda and 16 different flavors.
“We sell through our on-farm store and grocery stores in Thunder Bay. And we do direct marketing here at Thunder Bay Country Market. The market is open every Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Customers like to come and meet the producers; they can see who produces and grows their food. This way they can interact with us much more than if they were going to the grocery store. »
One cannot help but be blown away by the range of baked goods, ethnic foods, preserves, meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, beer, milk, coffee, tea, of spices, crafts and art. Then go up the stairs to the second floor. Near the handmade pies and fresh coffee, and overlooking the tables where customers sit to consume their purchases, is a stand manned by the owner of Must Have Sweets – Rebecca Leduc.
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“I make cupcakes, bars, muffins and candies,” she said. “I mainly sell in this marketplace and online.”
She also does marketing through a grocery store that she and her husband own.
“In this market, I have a lot of regular customers,” she said. “Plus, I invite people to try new things. I make different recipes to keep things fresh and interesting. I am here every Wednesday and Saturday; it’s nice to be in the community and meet people. Today I have Oreo cupcakes, pink lemonade and strawberry cupcakes. I also have vegan pastries, keto and gluten-free pastries. I have something for everyone. I also have pumpkin flake caramel.
When asked which candy is her favorite, she replies, “They’re all my favorites!”
Looking at his delicious pastries, we understand why.
Purchases at farmers’ markets transfer money directly from customers to producers. This money stays in the community longer. If people want to know what’s in their food or how it was produced, they can ask the person who made it. But probably the most important reason people, buyers and sellers, frequent farmers’ markets is the sense of community these markets create.
Those who take the Lake Superior Circle Tour may find a place in Thunder Bay that brings back fond memories, even for those who have never been there before. In a wood-frame showroom, people meet twice a week. They welcome strangers and friends by looking them in the eye to tell what they have done with love.
And just like grandma, they think so.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, an agricultural publication of Lee Enterprises based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He is a retired educator, retired soldier, and permanent resident of Wisconsin. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a loyal and hardy Australian Shepherd.