Local is better.
Eating locally grown food means you're supporting family-owned Canadian farms instead of big foreign companies that had to freeze and ship the food to you. This doesn't just mean you're supporting local farmers, but you're also doing a big favour to yourself and your family, by eating higher quality, GMO-free organic food.
Canada has very strict GMO laws and many Canadian farmers have also become organic-certified over the years. And even if there were some chemicals involved in the growing process, by buying locally, you have the opportunity to talk to the farmers and ask them everything you want to know about the food you're buying.
In 2014 when we first published this article, the National Restaurant Association has identified "locally sourced meat and seafood" and "locally sourced produce" as the top two trends to look out for. It's 2017 and locally sourced produce, locally sourced meat and seafood are still trending. And in the first place of Top 10 Concept Trends is "hyper-local sourcing (e.g. restaurant gardens, onsite beer brewing, house-made items)", which points to the fact that restaurants are even willing to have their own gardens, just to get the freshest groceries possible.
But in Toronto, you don't need to grow your own vegetables to know you're eating local food. Thankfully, there are so many farmers markets and local food grocery stores around the city that all you need to do is pick one and go and do your shopping. But picking just one can be a problem, we know, which is why we've created a list of our 10 favourites and added some great photos to make your lives easier.
Top 10 Local Food Stores in Toronto
- St. Lawrence Market
- Big Carrot
- Evergreen Brickworks
- Dufferin Grove
- Fresh from the Farm
- Karma Co-op
- Rowe Farms
- Raise the Root
- Sweet Potato
- The Stop
- Open: Saturdays from 5am-3pm
- Location: St. Lawrence Market
- Parking: The Market Lot, Front & Jarvis, Front & Church, Jarvis & Wellington. See the parking map here.
- Website: stlawrencemarket.com/shopping
The St. Lawrence Market was named the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2012, and there's a reason locals tend to agree. In operation since 1803, when Toronto had a mere 9,000 residents altogether, the St. Lawrence Market has over 120 food vendors and a farmer’s market that takes over every Saturday morning, starting at 5:00 am and lasting to 3:00 pm, all year round.
Now the largest indoor market in the city, it divides itself into two segments — the North Market and the South Market. The South Market offers specialty fresh food vendors, and the North Market hosts the farmer’s market and antique dealers on Sundays. Here you will find seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, delis, freshly-baked bread, pies, and much more.
What distinguishes this market is the quantity of its vendors, their variety, and their focus on providing Canadian, quality items — especially if you’re looking for specialties like elk, venison, or other local game. The market is nicely located downtown and accessible by public transit from Union station, although it's not too easy to get to if you live outside the city and want to be there bright and early Saturday morning.
St. Lawrence Market is a true Toronto landmark and it's a must-see whether you're looking for fresh local food or just visiting the city. If it's local food you're looking for, The North Market is the best for local produce.
The markets aren't open every day, which is unfortunate, and the South Market doesn't run past 6:00 pm, except on Fridays (when it's open until 7:00 pm). So you're forced to work around their schedule if you work late evenings. The North Market (farmers) is only open Saturdays, and the South Market is open Tuesday to Saturday. Although not as convenient as your local grocery store, eating locally sourced food you can trust is still worth it, because a Saturday morning out at the market with your family to hand-pick what you’ll eat that week is a great thing.
Jean says it's something for everyone:
St. Lawrence Market (SLM) can be a one stop shop for all your needs. SLM is basically an indoor farmer's market and flea market with many vendors selling fresh produce and different knick-knacks. Another plus is the variety of food options of almost any ethnic background. Remember to bring cash as some places don't accept cards.
- Open: Monday-Friday 9:00-9:00, Saturday 9:00-8:00, Sunday 10:00-6:00
- Location: 348 Danforth Avenue
- Parking: metered parking lot to the rear of the building
- Website: thebigcarrot.ca
Conveniently located on The Danforth, The Big Carrot is a store that has specialized in natural, non-GMO, and environmentally-friendly food and products since 1983. It has been approved to process and package over 700 organic products in its juice bar, bulk, spice, cheese, and produce departments, and it takes pride in its commitment to providing fresh options versus competing commercial supermarkets.
Today The Big Carrot is located in the Carrot Common, which consists of a few businesses actually - the juice bar, the Carrot Kitchen and the grocery store
The Big Carrot supports and buys from local, small producers whenever possible, and it works hard with local growers to make its prices fair and competitive in Riverdale. They always try to promote seasonal offerings, even in winter, when they mostly sell root veggies or apples.
What really makes The Big Carrot stand out is a knowledgeable staff that take pride in what they sell as much as the farmers do, and the wide range of products they sell (even apart from groceries, like body care items, household goods, and juices from their in-house juice bar). The store itself is beautiful and well kept, and it's a fair option compared to most farmer's markets because of the convenient location (at Chester Station on the Danforth line) and the fact that it's open every day, on weekdays until 9:00 pm.
This is still a supermarket, though, so you'll find more packaged goods (although non-GMO–verified for the most part) and other imports, so it's important you read all labels or ask the staff if you want to make sure you’re buying something that's locally grown.
Jenelle describes The Big Carrot as her favourite store:
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE The Big Carrot. They have everything you need -- from groceries, beauty products, vitamins, freshly made juices and more. Also, love that it's located in the heart of the Danforth. You can rest assured that you're purchasing GOOD QUALITY products that are good and safe for your body and mind.
If you get a chance to visit the juice bar, I recommend the Amazon Warrior; that's some good ish! The majority of their ingredients are also certified organic which is awesome for a health junkie like myself.
- Open: Summer-Saturdays 8am-1pm, Winter-Saturdays 9am-1pm
- Location: Evergreen Brick Works
- Parking: Paid parking, daily parking rate is $8, or $2.25 per half hour.
- Website: evergreen.ca
As one of Toronto’s largest farmer's markets, with 65 to 85 vendors, Evergreen Brick Works is definitely worth checking out. It's one of the most conveniently located markets, with easy access from the Don Valley Parkway, although there is paid parking in effect. Evergreen really encourages you to take public transit, and with a free shuttle bus running from Broadview Station and the 28A bus running from Davisville Station on Saturdays, there's no excuse not to go. Evergreen Brick Works runs all year round, although it moves into a warmer indoor space during the winter and has closer to 54 vendors.
Things to look out for are the fresh veggies, frozen meats, preserves, honey, duck eggs, and prepared food vendors like Pimenton (vegan, gluten-free red velvet cupcakes), ChocoSol, and Clement’s Crepes. What sets this market apart is its frequent special events onsite, like art exhibits or cooking classes. On select Saturdays, Evergreen Brick Works has demonstration classes for $5 that will show you how to put your fresh, locally grown goods to use.
Sarah recommends visiting on Saturday mornings:
An excellent place to come on a Saturday morning. Lots of amazing produce, meats, wine to sample and purchase (many of which are not sold in the LCBO), cheeses, and a "food court" with great eats such as crepes (so good!) tacos, paella, vegan items, salads, waffles, sandwiches, real lemonade and much more. I would recommend coming earlier to get parking and also so that they don't run out of good stuff!
- Open: all year long, Thursdays 3:00-7:00pm
- Location: Dufferin Grove Park (875 Dufferin, South of Bloor, across from the Dufferin Mall)
- Parking: Don't park illegally on Dufferin Park Avenue, you'll get a ticket. There are special signs allowing parking on Thursdays for market hours across from St. Mary's High School on the north side of the park.
Dufferin Grove is a market open all year round that runs from 3pm to 7pm every Thursday. Its easy accessibility from Dufferin Subway Station and the weekday slot that runs after work hours makes it an ideal candidate for getting fresh, organic food if you live near the downtown core or on the west end. With vendors aplenty, you can grab a coffee, have a freshly baked gluten-free treat, listen to some live music and talk to the farmers before buying organic produce, heirloom plants, vegan chocolate, or a tofu burger.
When you shop for your groceries at a market like Dufferin, you are placing a vote to encourage healthy, clean, and locally-grown food. Most importantly, you are creating a connection between you and the food system, to lessen the disconnect between what is grown in Canada and what or when we eat.
Lesley loves the community feeling at the market:
DGFM is a diverse organic market where most of the vendors sell organic produce with plenty of vegan meals to choose from at the BBQs, stalls or bakeries. Flowers from Prince Edward County, sprouts, kombucha, honey products, JK fries and Chocosol chocolate make me come back week after week! It is such a pleasure to shop and then stay for a picnic enjoying the delectable goodies and summer sun with a vibrant community of locals.
- Open: Monday-Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday 9am-5pm
- Location: 350 Donlands Avenue
- Parking: Street Parking
- Website: freshfromthefarm.ca
It's all in the name – straight from the farm to your shopping basket. Fresh From the Farm is a store that is a quick bus ride away from Donlands Station off of the Danforth. With them, you can place food orders online and pick them up at the store, particularly with a huge selection of grass-fed meats, cheeses, fish, and other unique choices like elk and beef tongue.
The store is a bit small, but it's packed with a variety of locally sourced produce, from farm fresh eggs to dairy products and hormone-free meat from Ontario Amish and Mennonite farmers the owners works closely with. You can also order your groceries online and pick them up a the store.
Eli appreciates the option to order online, specially when you can't find similar products anywhere else:
I made my order online and went to pick it up today. They have everything I need, but can't find it anywhere else. Hormone free chicken livers for a healthy pate, beef heart from grass-fed antibiotics free animals, organic breaded chicken strips for the picky children :), fresh free run eggs. Love the ground meat, makes great burgers.
- Open: Tuesday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday-Sunday 10am-6pm
- Location: 739 Palmerston Avenue
- Parking: Private Lot
- Website: karmacoop.org
Karma Co-op was founded in 1972 and it's been serving as an alternative to your typical grocery stores for more than 40 years now. Located in the Annex, this democratically run co-op specializes in organic, local, non-GMO and fair trade products.
The store carries bulk flour, quinoa, dried fruits, rice, nuts, spices, eggs, maple syrup, sunflower oil and honey from Ontario. They sell fresh organic produce from over dozen Ontario's farms.
Karma's raving reviews speak for themselves.
Kate Rusnak likes the store because of the community around Karma Co-op and the great variety of foods:
Karma is my favourite food store in Toronto. I can get delicious fresh (and frozen!) produce from local farms, ditto for dairy and meat, and they carry an amazing selection of bulk foods and teas, too. The store is filled with organic, non-GMO, Fair-trade, and local products. What I like most about Karma is the community. You can have great conversations, get to know the staff, and actually have a say when it comes to your food (because it's a co-op!).
Katherine Tessier says she saves a lot of money by buying in bulk at the store:
Their bulk items, awesome produce and local sourced everything keep my family eating nutritiously and deliciously. I'm too busy to research and vet my grocery purchases now that I have 2 kids. I like working cash or helping with clean up for my work hours. Great people and tunes make it fun. I'm currently on mat leave so I don't work at the moment and that's great! I love that Karma takes the guess work out of my grocery choices. Sure they are small and can't compete on canned good prices of other stores but the money I save on dry bulk goods, bulk laundry and dish soap, shampoo, etc more than make up for it on my strict budget. 2 thumbs way up.
The members of Karma co-op are also the owners of the store. There are a few types of membership:
- working membership - working members contribute two hours of work per month in exchange for paying the lowest member price for any product.
- flat free membership - members contribute $25 per month for the lowest member price. If the member would like to work instead, they are free to do so and then they don't have to pay the fee.
- percentage-rated membership - members pay a 10% surcharge on the top of the lowest member price. Works for members who can't commit to working or spend less than $250
- work-exempt membership - members are exempt from all monthly commitments and the 10% surcharge. This option is only available to 65+ seniors, those on parental leave and members who have medical exemption.
- Open: Mon-Thur 10am-8pm, Fri 10am-7pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
- Location: 1164 Queen Street East
- Parking: Street Parking
Leslieville's hidden gem, Raise the Root a small store on Queen Street East packed with organic fruits and veggies from Ontario farmers, unique foods, organic dairy and household needs. If you're a vegan, you'll feel like you're in heaven. According to Bree Lynn, they're also usually the first to get new products, which is a great reason to visit them and explore.
When at the store, you'll see a map of Ontario on the wall and all the farmers working with the store are highlighted. The store is small, but it offers a huge variety of local brands and organic products like Sunshine Yolks or Kind Organics.
Toronto East Enders are thrilled to have Raise the Root in the neighbourhood. Heather McAfee appreciates the feedback from the owner and her efforts to support small local business owners:
Raise the Root has such an abundance of fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables at good prices that it's become my go-to place for all my produce. A wide array of dry goods too. I love how open Amy is to product feedback to trying to source products for me. I was in the other day and happened to bump into the producers of the Kefir water (which is divine), local, small business owners being supported by this small business, which is amazing. I all around love this place and am so glad that it chose to come to our 'hood!
- Open: Mon-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat-Sun 9am-8pm
- Location: 7 locations around Toronto, one in Guelph, Leslieville location featured in the photos: 2124 Queen St East
- Parking: Street Parking
- Website: rowefarms.ca
When we first wrote this article about top 10 local food stores in Toronto, we asked the readers to vote for their favourite. And Rowe Farms won.
Rowe Farms, a store with a long tradition was founded by John Rowe who started the business on a small family farm in Guelph, in 1970. He opened up a stall at the St. Lawrence Market, where he sold his locally grown, antibiotic-free meats and in 2008, he opened the first Rowe Farms stores in Leslieville.
Today, there are 8 different Rowe Farm locations in Toronto: Leslieville, The Beach, Uptown, Guelph, Annex, Bloor West, Roncesvalles and Bayview.
Their most popular product is probably their chicken, they also sell beef, pork, lamb and turkey. In addition to meat, you can also buy locally sourced eggs, dairy, vegetable and fruit. They sell other groceries too, such as different sauces, jams, spices and much more, but if you're looking for locally sourced meat, you can't go wrong with Rowe Farms.
Cindy says Rowe Farms are the best option in the winter time when there are no farmers' market open:
Rowe Farms has great meat. I love their steaks and chicken, they are hormone and antibiotic free, their seafood is also sustainable. This is really importantly to me because I tend to get migraines easily from lower quality meat....and they do not have lower quality anything. The store might be small but stocked with great goodies. Their organic eggs are also very well priced. When you buy their food, you are buying from good local farmers.....not large corporations, and you support local and sustainable food.
- Open: Mon-Wed 9am-8pm, Thur-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat-Sun 9am-8pm
- Location: 2995 Dundas St West
- Parking: Street parking can be found in front of the store and on the side streets (Pacific & High Park Avenues).
- Website: thesweetpotato.ca
Located in the heart of the Junction, The Sweet Potato is a full service natural and local food store. They sell meats, dairy, bulk foods, baked goods, freshly-made meals, dips, and more. It's a perfect store for anyone with any food sensitivities or diet requirements. In addition to selling food, The Sweet Potato also carries a selection of cleaning, beauty and bath products.
Digs Dorfman used to work in his grandfather's grocery store and after finishing university, he ran the High Park Organic Market. With time he gained a lot of customers and since the market was only seasonal, some of them suggested that Digs should open up a store they can visit all year round. Which is exactly what he did and that's how The Sweet Potato came to be in 2008 and became a neighbourhood staple. This winter they will be moving to a new address, 108 Vine Avenue, because they've finally outgrown their store at Dundas St.
The Sweet Potato says they make it a priority to choose and know the local farmers and producers whose produce they sell and they only carry products that taste good. Who can say no to that? Some of the fruits and veggies they sell have been grown less than 40 mins away from the store and according to The Sweet Potato, they try to source the food "from Ontario first, Quebec, BC and the northern US second and then California third.."
Customers praise the freshness of their produce and the great selection of healthy organic foods. Ann Sirenko especially likes the deals the store has every week:
I recently discovered this store and am absolutely in love with it. There are many great deals every week which makes shopping organic so much more affordable! There is a great selection of organic produce, bulk items and some meats/fish. Overall, the prices and selection are by far the greatest then any other health food/organic store I've been to. 2/$5 organic broccoli and cauliflower, $.99 organic avocados....can't go wrong!!! Love this store!!
- Open: year-round every Saturday from 8AM – 12:30PM (open until 1PM in the summer)
- Location: Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie St
- Parking: Street Parking
- Website: thestop.org
Situated in the beautiful Artscape Wychwood barns (former TTC's streetcar barns), this farmers' market is a true event every week, the one every family looks forward to. The space is big and it's the most magical setting for a farmer's market. Just have a look at our photos below. According to their site, The Stop Farmers' Market attracts more than 1,500 people every week, making the market a neighbourhood meeting place.
The market is open every Saturday morning year round and features local bakeries, restaurants, artisans and local farmers offering their organic, sustainable produce.
Claudia likes how the knowledgeable the vendors are and the variety of choices at the market:
I love farmers markets and this one is lovely! In the summer the inside portion sells arts and crafts and the food vendors are outside. There are lots of vendors to choose from for veggies, my favourite was the mushroom stand so many different varieties you don't see in the supermarket. The vendors are all very knowledgable about their products.
So, which one of these stores will be your next stop? Did we miss your favourite place? Let us know in the comments if you think there is a place we haven't mentioned and we should know about it!