Hamilton Farmer’s Market – An Inquiry Approach

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to volunteer with Zoe Branigan-Pipe (visit her at PipeDreams) and one of her gifted classes. After exploring the wonderful makerspace at the Enrichment and Innovation Centre for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, we took the students into the city centre to explore the Hamilton Farmer’s Market.


The Hamilton Farmer’s Market has been around since 1837, is open all year round and is home to about 60 different vendors. A market is often a hub of a city, a place for gathering, sharing ideas, purchasing local or national goods, and (as we found out) a place for learning. An old staple in almost every city has recently been revitalized as the “real food” revolution builds steam and the demand for fresh and local goods increases once more.

On of the missions for the gifted program is, “To encourage and support students to engage in personal endeavours, passions and inquiry driven projects”. Our trip to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market provided an opportunity for some inquiry-based learning. Students were to interview different vendors and explore topics of their choice. Possible themes included: technology, marketing, family, pricing, and strategy. Here is an excerpt of the assignment outline:

As part of this program, we will be connecting back to our work with UN Global Goals and looking at what makes a city vibrant and successful. Students will start their journalism journey first on the HSR (Public Transit). We have discovered that many of our students have not experienced public transit in their own city.

Upon arriving downtown Hamilton, students will walk from the bus stop to Jackson Square where we will discuss the concept of a “Mall” and comparing this to times before the “Mall” where there were once independent shops along James street.

We will then walk through the Hamilton Public Library which leads us directly to the Farmer’s Market. Again, we will discuss the needs of these buildings as part of a city centre and why city planners and architects  chose to ensure the library and Market are not only attached but have a glass window between them.

At the Market, students will get a chance to work in small groups to observe and talk to Vendors. Assuming they prepared, they will ask relevant questions and work on an article that they will eventually publish on their own blogs.

(HWDSB – Zoe Branigan-Pipe Blog Post)

I had an amazing time experiencing inquiry outside the traditional classroom setting. The group of boys I worked with presented a challenge to me. They had many good ideas, but were very distracted by the sheer excitement of the trip. It was important to me to allow them to experience the market in an enjoyable manner while still trying to steer them onto a focused topic. Through many discussions and explorations, and a run in with an ATM, the boys decided to question vendors about the impact of new technologies on their businesses. They thought that if a vendor had an ATM, it would serve as attraction to the business.

They interviewed several vendors, but perhaps the most enlightening was Henry Brown’s Small Batch Ice Cream. They were able to answer many questions about the positive impacts of technology on their business. This includes their POS application on their iPad that collects data about their sales, to the impact of social media and Instagram, and even the new ice cream maker that allows them to make more ice cream, faster! In fact, the co-owner went through the HWDSB enrichment program herself – how relevant! The boys were loving the detailed information that allowed them to glimpse into the market’s success in the technology-based 21st century. It also helped that they got to taste a little bit of the ice cream as well! (Please go and support Henry Brown’s – they are amazing!)

It was important to experience learning outside the classroom. I haven’t received a copy of their final inquiry-based article, but I know that these students learned so much just by travelling to the market, taking public transport, managing their money and questioning the vendors.  In fact, the students realized this is well. In 2013, a group of students from Zoe’s gifted class had their article published  – it was all about how they learned from “escaping the classroom”. I am excited to look for more opportunities for experiential learning with my classes in the future!

– A


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