C&L Corner Market: A decade of local produce

Andrew Coppolino
C&L Corner Market: A decade of local produce
Luc Gerard displays some of the products he sells at the C&L Corner Market, on the corner of Highway 17 and Edward Street, opposite the Esso service station. Gerard has been running this fruit and vegetable stand for around ten years. (Photo : Andrew Coppolino)

It’s a roadside produce stall, a “kiosque de fruits et légumes frais, produits locaux etcrèmerie,” in the very best sense of the word, with framed fence-board walls, a couple of doors and windows, a scattering of signage here and there and with some tarpaulins covering the roof over a concrete pad and a gravel parking lot.

Luc Gerard has operated C&L Corner Market with his wife Catherine Laplaine for a decade: for any food business to last more than five years in turbulent economic times is a strong showing; 10 years makes it remarkable.

Throughout Ontario, and indeed the country, farmers’ markets, farm-gate sales and drive-up produce stands have experienced a renaissance over the last decade.

Each region features concession and county roads – and gravelly lanes leading to livestock barns on local farms – that offer honey, maple syrup, corn, fresh-cut flowers and a host of seasonal produce as you drive, or bike, up.

For example, in Waterloo Region, from whence I have just arrived, you’ll see cloth-wrapped summer sausage and sauerkraut where you leave your cash in an unattended “honour box” before you drive or bike away. That is, if there isn’t a sign that says “NO SUN SALES,” the signal that an observant Mennonite family isn’t engaging in commercial activity on the Lord’s day.

Defined perhaps by both culture and history, each of these regions has its idiosyncratic and quirky food stalls, some more urban than others: specifically, Gerard and Laplaine’s market stand located at the very busy corner of Highway 17 and Edwards Street and across from the ESSO station and the seemingly continuous queue at the Tim Hortons drive-thru.

It’s a clash of the busy urban traffic that continues throughout the day against the quieter rural space in the shape of the market-stand-as-proxy for where our local food grows often far away from car-and-truck traffic.

Also at the location is a popular hot dog stand, Le Chip Stand, is a separate neighbouring business next to C&L which is often busy serving fries, poutine, burgers, Polish sausage, pogos and other food-stall standards.

For his part, Gerard previously worked a food stand with his brother at ByWard Market before taking over the business.

“It’s been busy ever since,” Gerard says.

Open year-round, the market of only a couple of hundred square feet has baskets and buckets and boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables, local when they are in season and delivered daily.

Drawing from area farmers, Gerard is quick to point out that his strawberries come from Oka, Quebec, and are “some of the best around.”

In the time it has been operating, C&L has become an established destination for the neighbourhood, according to Gerard.

“This business is 80 per cent regulars and 20 per cent visitors,” he says.

During one of  my visits, Gerard and a customer chatted briefly about some tomatoes and then caught up on local news and sharing information – something you rarely, if ever, see in the produce aisles at a chain grocery store. That’s the sense of community that often defines such market stands.

“And people like to know where the fruits and vegetables come from. Who the farmers are,” he adds.

Vegetables from Riceville, Ont., run the gamut from early-season garlic scapes and rhubarb to cucumbers, tomatoes red onions from Wendover; you’ll find radishes, corn, peppers and scallions from Laviolette Garden in Chute-à-Blondeau east of Hawkesbury.

Gerard also draws on produce that comes from around Navan, about 20 minutes away, as well as other farmers in his group of producers.

“I have three or four friends who grow produce which we sell. We’ll get peaches and pears from the Niagara region,” he says.

There’s fresh chicken eggs and quail eggs available from local producers, as well as Saint-Albert cheese.

The other part of Gerard’s and Laplaine’s business is the ice cream: when an employee recently called in sick, Gerard was forced to hop between ringing in and bagging produce and scooping cones. They dish out both soft serve and hard ice cream as well as make floats and banana splits.

“When school is out, the ice cream business is extremely busy,” he says.

There are 14 hard ice cream flavours made by the popular Kawartha Dairy: salted caramel is the most popular, according to Gerard.

Frozen meals and ready-made food such as pies, lasagna, pasta sauce and salmon pie are available in the freezer case, prepared by La Cuisine Gimy, a business that has been in operation in Prescott-Russell for more than three decades.

The market also apparently sells a lot of pickled eggs from Alfred, according to Gerard, and frozen meats by L’Orignal Packing, another long-standing area business which delivers a range of products to C&L every Wednesday.

“If you want a special order from them, just let me know and they will bring it in,” he says.

Like any market, there’s a grind and churn to the produce as the seasons come and go. The busy corner sometimes gets a bit crowded as customers jostle for parking in tight space. For Gerard, though, it’s the engagement with those customers, regulars or otherwise, that is satisfying.

“I like to make people happy. Customers come here because they can often find items that are harder to find in grocery stores. We have different fresh products. I think that’s why we are still here after 10 years.”

C&L Corner Market is open seven days a week.

Food writer Andrew Coppolino lives in Rockland. He is the author of “Farm to Table” and co-author of “Cooking with Shakespeare.” Follow him on Instagram at @andrewcoppolino.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story online and in print indicated that Mr. Gerard was the owner of the property at the corner of Highway 17 and Edwards Street. We regret and apologize for the error.

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