‘Tis the season to visit your neighbourhood farmers’ market for fresh homegrown produce and other goodies, like oh-so-yummy local honey and preserves. This is your chance to revel in what the landscape around you has to offer and, paraphrasing what local food advocate Michael Pollan once remarked, shake hands with the farmers that took the time and care to grow the food for you.
However, in some cases, you won’t be meeting the farmer (or even anyone who works on the farm), but a reseller. Over the past couple of decades, here in Ontario, the lines have blurred between farmers’ markets and flea markets/bazaars in a way. Many Ontario farmers’ markets allow a certain percentage of vendors who buy produce from places like the Ontario Food Terminal and then resell them. The Ontario Food Premises Regulation 152 defines a farmers’ market as a market where the majority of vendors sell their own farm goods. There was an exposé done on this topic on CBC’s show Marketplace.
Now, I have no issue with free enterprise like this; however, I do have an issue with the lack of transparency about it. I support the idea that there needs to be a clear sign of who is a farmer and who is a reseller so that consumers can make an informed choice on the matter.
At Ottawa’s ByWard Market, for example, they instituted a colour-coded banner method of identifying who’s who. Green signs for farmers’ stands, cream-coloured banners for those who sell at least 60 per cent of what they grow with some produce brought in from neighbouring farms or a food terminal, and purple banners for resellers. There used to be a problem at ByWard Market with resellers purposely undercutting farmers, but since the colour-coded signs were implemented, it has created a fair playing field with resellers focusing on stocking specialty products, like beeswax candles and baked goods, to differentiate themselves from the other vendors. There is also the MyPick program created by Farmers’ Markets Ontario with the MyPick logo to verify you are buying directly from the farmer who grew the produce (or traded with another MyPick farmer in some instances). My hope is that there will be some sort of province-wide verification program established in the near future. Until then, you can inform yourself by getting to know the vendors and where they say their stuff is from, and follow the rule of thumb that if a vendor has a wide variety of produce, especially not-yet-in-season fruits and vegetables or with PLU code stickers on them (funny, but true!), chances are they are a reseller.
I do understand that there might not be enough independent farmers with enough produce to supply all the various markets around the province, hence why market managers accept resellers too. For me, I am specifically going to a farmers’ market to support my local family farmers, as I know this is an important source of income for them that often keeps them in business. Otherwise, I’ll just go to the grocery store for produce procured from a food terminal.
How do you feel about farmers’ markets allowing resellers as vendors? Share your opinion in the comments section below.
References (and my many thanks to):
“About the MyPick Verified Local Farmer Program.” Farmers’ Market Ontario, 2018, http://farmersmarketsontario.com/mypick-new/
"Farm Fresh?” CBC’s Marketplace, September 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2017-2018/farm-fresh
“Fruits of Their Labour: Ontario Deals with Growing Tensions Between Farmers' Market Vendors.” The Globe and Mail, November 2017, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/fruits-of-their-labour-ontario-deals-with-growing-tensions-between-farmers-market-vendors/article36115539/
“Outdoor Market.” ByWard Market, 2018, http://byward-market.com/en/about-us/outdoor-market/
“Regulation 152: Food Premises.” Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act, December 2017, https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/900562