Return of Vancouver’s winter farmers market brings mixed weather and memories

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Sometimes, it’s all about timing. The first weekend of November marked the beginning of Vancouver’s winter farmers market season. Two outdoor markets will be in operation each weekend from now until May: Saturdays at Riley Park beside Nat Bailey Stadium, and Sundays at Hastings Park beside the Agrodome.

As any vendor or patron who frequents the winter farmers market can tell you, when it comes to weather, it’s like your choices at the market: you never know what you’re going to get.

Hastings Park Winter Farmers Market (Grant Lawrence)

This past Saturday, you may have noticed that it poured relentlessly all day, flooding streets and triggering mudslides. Nobody but the hardiest of West Coast souls wanted to be out in what was a classic November washout. And yet, those colourful tents popped up around Nat Bailey, and faithful customers in Gortex and galoshes braved the monsoon for the best in food and drink that is all grown, baked and made by local farmers and businesses.

What a difference a day makes. On Sunday, the storm had blown itself out. Just like that, Vancouverites were treated to a warm and sunny day for the opening of the fourth season of the Hastings Park Winter Farmers Market.

My wife has always been a strong proponent of the basic concept of the market: the fresh food, the open air, the socializing and the community. When she was living in Halifax, the Saturday morning market was the place to be, no matter how late everyone was partying the night before.

It took me awhile to warm to the market tradition. On Sundays, I’d rather be in bed. All day. Then we had kids, and sleeping has generally become something I remember fondly from my past. My kids are growing up going to the farmers market every Sunday. They love it. They get to see their friends, play in the park and maybe enjoy a treat such as fresh maple taffy on a stick.

My five-year-old son is so into farmers markets that whenever he sees tents of any kind — from the sidelines of a soccer game to a homeless encampment — he excitedly exclaims, “Look Dad, a farmers market! Can we go?”

The Lawrence kids (Grant Lawrence)

There were plenty of returning vendors at the winter markets that we have gotten to know, as well as many new ones offering goods for our taste buds to explore, selling everything from harvest fruits and vegetables to fresh baked goods to organic meats and Oceanwise fish to craft beer and spirits.

Sadly, I knew of one vendor who wouldn’t be returning.

On a blustery, sunny Sunday at the market last winter, my son and I lined up at the popular Cheeses Crust food truck for a couple of owner Larry Jordan’s legendary grilled cheese sandwiches. Larry was a classic farmers market character: he had a long grey beard and often wore a bandana, dark sunglasses and shorts, no matter what the weather.

Produce at the Hastings Park winter market (Grant Lawrence)

Depending on the day, Larry’s mood could be as warm or as crusty as his sandwiches. On that Sunday last season, Larry was warm. We chatted for a moment, and Larry wished us a great afternoon. I said the same to him.

My son and I wandered the market for another hour or so, until we noticed the ambulance’s flashing lights. I had to shield my son’s eyes from the scene that was unfolding. Right beside the Cheeses Crust truck, Larry Jordan was on the ground.

He was unconscious, on his back, with his shirt ripped open. He was receiving CPR from a team of paramedics. I was stunned. I led my son away. I was later informed by a police officer that Larry didn’t make it. He died that day, at the market, right beside his food truck. Larry Dean Jordan was 58 years old. For the final three months of the winter market, there was a memorial for Larry near where his truck often sat.

The Cheeses Crust food truck is now operated by Larry’s three sons.

This past Sunday, with skateboarders launching themselves into the air at the nearby bowl, and little hockey players emerging from the Agrodome, and others sitting in the sun in the Italian Gardens, I went to the market with my wife and my kids to meet friends and neighbours. I greeted vendors I recognized and met new ones I didn’t, and I sat down at a bench near where the Cheeses Crust truck was often parked.

You’re not supposed to drink beer at the market, but the moment struck me. I cracked a can of Persephone Goddess Golden Ale, and I raised a toast to the memory of Larry Jordan.