A sign out front reads "Fermé," but the gate is slightly ouverte, which means Colin Rémillard is already hidden somewhere in Jardins St-Léon Garden, drinking his morning coffee and enjoying the precious calm before the marketplace begins its daily descent into organized madness ahead of the weekend rush.
The market’s shelves — normally overflowing with hundreds of fruits, vegetables, pastries and breads — are temporarily bare.
Each morning, a collection of teenage- to 20-something staff prep hundreds of kilograms of produce, recutting and rewashing, separating the cream of the crop from the rejects that are past their prime.
For nearly three hours, with a soundtrack of late-'90s emo-rock blaring, they move like bilingual, agronomic automatons — from the refrigerator, to the sink, to the cart, to the display — ahead of the first customer's arrival at 9 o’clock.
"No matter how much we get done, it’s always a struggle at 8:59," says Rémillard, a gangly 23-year-old redhead who owns the market with his siblings, Luc and Janele, and a cousin, Daniel, who drove to Portage la Prairie at 4 a.m., to collect the last of the strawberry harvest.
A dozen deliveries — radishes, spinach, cauliflower, beans and small potatoes — are slated to arrive throughout the day while hundreds of customers do their shopping.
The young Rémillards — all under 30 — have directed this ballet for several years, but the nagging fear that time will run out before patrons waltz in never goes away.
By 7 a.m., the shelves are about half-stocked, and Rémillard is half-stoked. "It’s mad in here," he says with a cob of sweet Georgia corn in his hand and the bright yellow evidence stuck in his teeth.
"Still so much left to do."
— Ben Waldman
Photography by John Woods