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Experimenting with Daily Shopping in the Byward Market

Experimenting with Daily Shopping in the Byward Market


By Brian Clarke

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For other articles on our ideas about the politics and culture of the Byward Market, check out the collection of the “Byward Market Future” tag on our blog.  There are a lot of different ideas, opinions and issues to talk about when thinking about what we want the Byward Market to look like in ten years and as such, we eventually plan on this becoming a recurring column on our website.

However, at the moment, all I have is bunch of scattered ideas that I am sharing as they develop in my head.  By sharing these ideas while they are in their infancy and getting feedback, critique and discussion from the local community definitely helps in the process of eventually shaping these scattered ideas into a coherent set of arguments.

Last week’s article on daily grocery shopping and the Byward Market as a traditional farmer’s market is a perfect example.

In reading some of the comments on the article and on social networks, I found that many locals who live and/or work in the Byward Market already use the market as a daily grocery store.  However, the main frustration they had was mainly with the limited time that the market was open which was not always compatible with modern work schedules.  As I hinted at in that article, I was a suburban-raised kid and the idea of daily rather than weekly grocery shopping was a bit novel to me at first.

So, this week I wanted to try it out and see if it’s a feasible idea to push people to use the market on a daily or nearly daily basis instead of going to Loblaw’s once a week.  Yesterday afternoon, I took a trip to the market with a simple goal in mind: get something for dinner (with enough leftovers for lunch today) and something for breakfast.  I tried to get just enough so I would only have one day’s worth of food – planning for the hypothetical situation in which I would do this every day and always be eating one-day fresh food.

And most importantly, I wanted to document how much I spent in terms of time and money.  While last week I argued – in a bit of an idealistic fashion – that people should stop clinging to the idea of “convenience” so much, I realize that this kind of culture shift is not going to happen overnight.  It cannot be too much more time-consuming or expensive of nobody will make that sacrifice.

So I went to Saslove’s Meat Market and got some fresh chicken legs, to La Bottega for some cold cuts for breakfast, then strolled through the market stands buying fresh eggs, berries, lettuce, peppers, green onions and green beans.  All together I spent nearly exactly $20.  It took about 20 minutes.  Compare that with my weekly grocery shopping routine in which I spend roughly an hour between two grocery stores and spend $100-110.  If you do the math, daily grocery shopping would cost me about an extra $5 and 10 minutes per day.

Not bad at all.  If that’s all it costs to support the local community and constantly be eating fresh and better tasting food, I am all for it!

However, the one challenge for me was getting to and from the Byward Market.  When I first wanted to do this, I had planned on it being a nice day so I could peacefully cycle to and from the market along the Canal.  But alas, Canada doesn’t work that way; of course it rained all day yesterday. So, the 30 minute bus ride to and from was the biggest challenge and not something I would want to go through every day.

However, if you’re already in the downtown area, you do not have to suffer traffic or rely on the weather and thus, daily grocery shopping becomes an easy reality.  I think this is proven by some of the comments from people living in the Market.

However, for the majority of Ottawa’s population who lives in the suburbs and works downtown, it is still a feasible practice I think.  Simply stop after work, get dinner and breakfast, making sure to get enough for lunch leftovers the next day.  This does raise additional issues: public transit in the downtown area and the big bugaboo when talking about the Market – parking.  But those are discussions for another day.

Just think how many times you need something and stop at the grocery store on your way home from work.  I know I do it at least twice a week, on top of my normal weekly shopping day.  So this means, even if you do not want to do daily grocery shopping at first but instead did this every three days, it would not really be any extra time commitment.

But this comes back to main challenge that people are already having: making this after-work shopping compatible with their modern work schedules.

So, in conclusion: daily grocery shopping was a fun experience that proved to me that it is a doable practice, especially if you already work downtown.

The challenge for Ottawa citizens is simple: challenge ourselves to get into this mindset of stopping at the farmer’s market and not the supermarket on our way home from work.  As I argued last week, some sort of community organization or group could help with this – it is easier to prescribe to a group mentality than to change one’s own attitude individually.

From the Byward Market’s point of view, the challenge is having market stands open later.  However, I know this problem is circular.  The Market cannot stay open later if people are not coming and people will not go after work if a lot of stands have already shut down. In fact, when I was there around 3 P.M. yesterday, several shops were already starting to pack up.

And this is where I’ll leave my scattered thoughts on the topic, as this circular ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ problem is what I’ve been struggling with.  I had a blast with my experiment yesterday, but to make this daily or near-daily (3+ times per week) farmer’s market shopping a reality for many locals, we need to find a way to encourage after-work trips to the Byward Market.

How to do that becomes the big question.