More Headaches for Farmers, Less Choice for Consumers

Toronto's New Certified Farmers Markets
By Peter Duffin

You have read about it here, and it's been in most of the major dailies too. Farmers' Markets Ontario (FMO) with the help of a million dollar grant, care of the Ontario taxpayers, is now sponsoring and controlling two new markets. 'MyMarkets', as the FMO refers to them, are now operating at Liberty Village and Woodbine Centre with several more planned in the future for the GTA. But is this such good news for the farmer participants, let alone their customers? I for one have my doubts.

For an Ontario Greenbelt farmer to be certified to sell at a 'MyMarket' location a number of criteria must be met. First, a farmer can only sell what is grown on his or her own farm. Selling the neighbour's produce, in fact reselling of any kind, is not permitted. This also includes reselling by a third party representative, even if that third party rep has been chosen by the farmer. Too bad if third party representation is the most cost effective means of selling your farm products Mr. and Ms. Farmer. That's not allowed, end of story.

But for the farmer that's not the worst of it. In order to pass inspection, every farmer has to take time out from their busy schedule to satisfy the demands of an on-site inspector contracted by FMO. It's not enough to be registered and to be paying taxes as a farm. Products for sale at a 'MyMarket' location must be reconciled with acreage used for farming and related expenses. Invoices for such things as utilities, maintenance, fuel, seeds, fertilizer etc. must be produced and be acceptable to the inspector or certification is a no go. Hello! More invasive bureaucracy - just what every farmer needs.

To add insult to injury, apparently that million dollar grant the FMO received isn't enough to cover inspection costs. Starting next year, every annual inspection will cost the farmer an estimated $200. This is in addition to annual stall fees and membership dues, and the cost of a canopy which must be purchased from an FMO approved supplier. Nice to know that at least FMO is not going to go broke. And yet, you have to wonder about their financial priorities when last Friday's market at Woodbine Centre included entertainment provided by a belly dancer.

For most 'MyMarket' patrons a local products only policy means that one-stop shopping is impossible. Looking for locally made chocolates, most other candy, nuts, spices, or citrus fruits? Sorry none of these products, or the base products associated with them, are grown in Ontario. You will have to make another trip and shop elsewhere. People who want these products are going to purchase them anyway. So why not make them available at 'MyMarket' locations? The attraction, convenience, and business opportunity in offering one-stop shopping should be re-examined by Farmers' Markets Ontario.

But alternatively, would it not be smarter for the provincial government to concentrate its efforts on consumer education through Foodland Ontario, just as it has done in the past and will probably continue to do in the future? In an environment where most people frequenting farmers' market are actually looking to buy local products, is any involvement by an arm's length organization, such as Farmers' Markets Ontario, really necessary?