It is 15 years ago that I responded to a newspaper article with the title “To Market, to Market”. It began with, “One of the best things about this time of the year is going to a local farmers’ market and buying produce right from the farmer.”
Sadly, the writer did not do his homework. If he would have gone early in the morning to one of the larger markets and observe the huge cube vans, forklift trucks attached, arriving from the Toronto Food Terminal and distributing tons of produce to various stalls which carry the word “Farm” in various romantic variations he might have written, “if it looks too good to be true, it usually is.”
Nothing seems to have changed during the last 15 years. It is still the big guys who monopolize the market at the expense of the small producers who surround the huge stalls. They merely serve as a backdrop to the retailers, giving the market the appearance of authenticity. The customers are conned into believing that they purchase fresh produce directly from “genuine” farmers, and at a lower price than at the local supermarket – which is not necessarily the case. While this kind of “market” may be a tourist attraction, it is, other than that, of no benefit to the local economy. I would go so far as to say that they are an unfair competition to established supermarkets. Little overhead, no property taxes, minimal use of utilities.
The issue to be dealt with is, “What exactly is a farmers’ market?”
First, we can look at an outdoor supermarket, where everything from everywhere is for sale. Unfortunately, the Province of Ontario, in dealing with farmers’ markets, insists only on Ontario grown fruits and vegetables, regardless of where they have been harvested. So “local” is not a requirement. This encouraged one farmers’ market to issue the following statement:
“We believe it is important for us that we continue to work alongside our small-scale farmers, commercial farmers, Foodland Ontario and the Ontario farmers that supply our Ontario Food Terminal. Without this formula we will not exist as one of the largest diverse and unique markets in the province”
The result of this “formula” is that it condones the lucrative and virtually risk-free practice of retailing fruits and vegetables purchased at wholesale outlets, e.g. the Toronto Food Terminal. With negligible overhead (no store, next to no rent, no taxes, a guaranteed customer base) the resellers easily outsell the bona-fide producers and make a lot more money, too.
The sad advice is that customers at farmers markets must learn to be suspicious, ask questions, and listen to the answer. There is more to a farmer than a pair of overalls and a big hat.
There is truth to the Latin proverb, “Caveat Emptor!”
The other option is a true “producers’ market where a direct exchange of goods and money between customers and local growers/producers takes place. The customers know for sure that they purchase “untraveled”, in-season fruit and vegetables. They can ask questions and receive knowledgeable answers. They can enquire about ingredients in baked and canned goods. They can even visit the vendors at their farms. More often than not, customers and vendors become good friends. This kind of a market is a true tourist attraction and a community event. The benefits to the local economy are measurable in positive terms. Producers compete against each other in terms of quality and creativity, hardly ever in price or quantity. This means that a true producers’ market, in comparison to the “outdoor supermarket” delivers a much higher standard in the quality of goods for sale.
Admittedly there are health risks in purchasing perishable items in an outdoor environment. However, I believe that “long-distance” produce, even if it has been treated with all kinds of chemicals against fungus and harmful bacteria, is vastly more risky than fresh, untreated, local fruits and veggies.
This brings us to the Campbellford Farmers’ Market, one of the few true farmers’ markets in eastern Ontario. If you have not yet visited us, you missed a lot. We are open from May 1 to October 31, every Wednesday and Saturday, from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. You will enjoy the atmosphere, the buskers, and all the good things straight from our farms, gardens, and kitchens.