Adventures in a French Farmer’s Market

Every so often there’s a Farmer’s Market held on Gould Street. It’s always a casual affair – merchants set up small stands to sell fresh (sometimes organic!) fruits, veggies, baked goods, meats and more. People relax by Lake Devo as others stroll down Gould, trying samples and picking up some food that helps a local farmer get paid.

The Ryerson Farmer’s Market is the epitome of relaxation – a great way to kill an hour and grab some great food. So when I heard about an outdoor market in Lille, France (where I am currently on exchange), I knew I had to check it out. Finding myself low on food on Sunday, I decided to stroll over.

What I found is difficult to describe succinctly, as it is nothing I’ve ever seen before. Here are the major differences I found between Lille and Ryerson, as well as some tips if you ever find yourself in a foreign market.

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The differences begin right at the entrance. The market starts in a tiny alleyway, lined with merchants selling towels and fabrics, where you must work to avoid bumping into people. You walk about 20 metres, when all of a sudden it expands like an hourglass into a massive square filled with hundreds of people. The magnitude of this place is staggering. Merchants yelling inexplicably, children running around, customers haggling, people smoking and drinking on sidewalk cafés, the place is a zoo. While Ryerson’s market is half of one street, this feels like three grocery stores squished together. Merchants are crammed together under makeshift tarps, with small laneways set up between for customers to squeeze by.

Next is finding what you want. There may be a couple stalls at Ryerson selling the same veggies or meat, but here there’s dozens, all spread around the giant square. A rotisserie chicken sold for 6.50€ near the entrance, but after visiting six or seven stalls, I got one for 5€ on the other side of the square. It doesn’t sound like much, but when 1€ = $1.52, every cent is worth it, so you need to do some comparison shopping. There was a larger line at the cheaper place, but food tastes so much better when you’ve saved on a shoestring budget.

Another difference is the products sold. This market isn’t just a go-to for fresh food. You can buy almost anything you need here – bedding and pillows, clothes, shoes, shower gel, even cheap art like you’d find at Winners or Walmart. The only thing I couldn’t find was the one I wanted: dish soap.

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Now I know what you’re thinking, this market sounds amazing, right? And it is. However, you can’t let yourself get too caught up in the deals, you must always be aware. Because there’s nothing pickpockets like better than a large crowd, especially one that contains foreigners. One friend from Hong Kong didn’t even notice a man beside him until he felt a strange hand rooting around his pocket, searching for anything he could take. It’s always wise to keep your valuables in your front pocket, or better yet, inside your coat.

My trip to the Lille market has been one of the highlights of my trip so far. Do you have any more questions about it? Leave them in the comments below! 

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