Many Nova Scotians know that farmers’ markets are the best place to find locally grown produce like potatoes, carrots and…callaloo?

It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the greens on offer at the local farmer’s market. But the Caribbean taro plant used to make the dish is available at the Halifax Brewery Farmers Market, program development intern Zoë Beale assures us.

“Hutton Family Farm is growing really culturally specific foods that people come out of their way to get,” says Beale, who joined the Brewery Market management team in March but has been a long-time customer and vendor. She says an increasing number of vendors at the market are realizing that they could—and should—be expanding their offerings to meet the demands of a growing variety of tastes.

“I think people in general are realizing that not all vegetables are culturally appropriate for everyone and farmers are growing more diverse offerings.”

Beale says this is a good first step for the market as they work to build a more diverse clientele.

“We definitely recognize that our customer base is not the most diverse,” she says. “I don’t know if that’s something about farmer’s markets—if there’s a certain culture around farmer’s markets. I know there are some ideas about farmer’s markets being expensive and not accessible places. We recognize that, but it’s kind of our mould to break.”

Their hope is that the cultural range of market vendors will help with that change.

“We have a pretty diverse collection of vendors and that’s definitely something we feel like we can do to increase our diversity, or improve it, is have diverse vendors,” says Beale. “We have an Egyptian food vendor, Indian food vendors, a few Polish vendors. We have an English crumpet vendor, Jamaican food.”

Sary Ragab has been a vendor with the market since it opened four years ago, selling authentic Egyptian cuisine. He’s noticed the market’s efforts to grow their weekly intake of customers, especially in the last year.

“After the sort of renovation of the market, things started to develop more and (we got) more publicity and more people started to come,” says Ragab. “People started to know that this market is back.”
More recently, an Indian fusion cuisine business—Eeyaa Fusion Indian Street Food founded by Eeti Singh and Arunabh Kalita—opened up shop in the market.

“We came here as students, we did our master’s here. And we like food,” says Kalita, as he fries up some warm bread idli on a griddle in the middle of the weekend market’s busy spell. “We spoke to a few other markets, but this market had a good cultural mix. That was important. We wanted to start out small and see what our customer base is.”

So far, the customer base is pretty good. In the six months that they’ve been in operation, they’ve cultivated several regulars, including fellow vendor Pascal Desjardins.

“I tried it just a few weeks ago and after my first bite I just loved it,” says Desjardins.

But they’re also gaining customers from the Indian community, like 19-year-old student Himanshu Aggarwal.

“When you’re staying away from home, the loneliness you face—apart from missing your family—is food,” says Aggarwal, who made his first visit to the Brewery Market just to try Eeyaa’s menu. “In Halifax, there are not much Indian restaurants. There’s little places to go eat Indian food. This is one of those places.”

Singh agrees that it’s difficult to find authentic Indian food in Halifax.

“I’m more of a street food person. Everywhere you go (in Halifax), they’ll provide you with a main course, but street food is very difficult to get here.”

The niche they are trying to fill caters directly to newcomers with a sense of culinary homesickness, like Aggarwal, as well as encouraging people from all backgrounds to try something new.

“Our motto is to bring a new delicacy from the different streets of India every month,” says Singh. “We have regular customers. We have younger customers. I’ve had Chinese people come here. Korean people. They tried our food; we have diversity, for sure. When we came here, I saw that there was diversity everywhere. That’s why we’re keen to come here and explore more.”

It would seem that eateries like Eeyaa are already helping to build a more multicultural clientele for the market. But Singh believes their presence alone isn’t going to be enough, noting they have lost customers who had been recommended to them because they confused the Brewery Market with the much larger Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market down the street.

“The main problem for this market is that people are not aware of it,” she says.

Beale and the rest of the Brewery Market staff don’t plan to let their vendors do all the work to promote the market.

“One of the first things I did when I started working here was have an event that was part of Multicultural Day,” Beale says. “I think that was a great event because it did draw lots of different cultures. In terms of retaining those people, or encouraging them to come back? It’s a little tricky.”

That said, having a diverse group of vendors offer products to a diverse group of Nova Scotians is certainly a way to get more folks in the door—a strategy Beale plans to heavily pursue.

“Starting in the new year, I’m going to be focusing more on vendor recruitment,” she says. “Connecting with organizations that are directly in touch with people that are just arriving here. I know there’s programs to incubate businesses, or to help people get theirs (off the ground).”

The market approves new vendors on a regular basis.

“Give it a try,” says Singh. “That’s what we did, and we’re doing good. Take risks, get on your feet, and do it.”

Chris Muise

Chris Muise

Chris Muise is a writer/contributor for My Halifax Experience and My East Coast Experience