Local or not to local....

Posted by Chris Penton on

You may have read the recent shocking follow up article to a CBC Marketplace story about the Peterborough Market ousting vendors that spoke out about their fellow vendors not telling whole truths about the origin of their produce.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/peterborough-market-ousts-farmers-who-complained-that-some-sold-produce-that-wasn-t-local-1.4649534

The Marketplace story revealed some vendors had been passing off imported produce as Ontario grown. Because the Peterborough & District Farmers' Market Association (PDFMA) seemed to be taking no action on these vendors, a handful of truly local producers spoke up as part of the story. That was towards the end of last growing season.

With only weeks to go to opening day of their market, these ‘dissidents’ as they’re referred to by the market management have been told not to come back. The management felt the need to send a bailiff to their places of business to relay the message.

The wrong in this story is obvious. The resellers were wrong in their actions, the management dealt with it in all the wrong ways and the dissidents were wrongly ousted. And, check out that leading list of voting criteria. Stalin was less forceful.

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I have been asked if any of this malarkey went on at our market and how I felt about reselling. The first is an easy answer. No. I visit most of our farms and vet all vendors. Everything you buy at the Beechwood Market is grown, baked, crafted, created, spawned within 125km of the Market itself.

The second answer has been made difficult by some local markets. Some Ottawa markets have implemented different categories of vendor. The system allows for reselling as long as the stall displays the correct signage indicating as such. The signs tend to be convoluted and many customers have simply given up trying to decipher the message.

On the surface, this is the transparent approach to allow vendors the right to sell you what they please. However, it sets a certain tone for other markets in the City and across the Province. If one Ottawa area market offers both tomatoes from North Gower and tomatoes from California, why wouldn’t the market 4km down the road? Or the Market you happened upon one weekend? Markets choosing this ‘tiered’ system encourage a particular set of buying habits. As a result, distrust breeds between customer and vendor.

Why allow this option at all? Ottawa has over 1400 farms just within the City limits. Ontario has roughly 75,000. Can our markets not source enough local produce to cover the regular season? The off-season will always be another story. Our people are working on that…

Food safety and traceability a growing issue around the world, why should we be forced to worry about it at our local markets? There is peace in purchasing food for your family that has been touched by minimal hands, travelled a minimal distance and holds maximum nutritional value. Perhaps some new City wide standards are needed. In California, market managers and vendors can be jailed for falsifying food origin. Picture that conversation in the Elgin St holding cell. ‘What are you in for?’

All joking aside, Ottawa markets need to bind together and form a coalition to ensure City-wide food quality, solid ethics and reliable management. We need not reinvent the wheel on this, as there are some good models already in place. And, this should not be a City of Ottawa initiative. It needs to be a grassroots effort.

Ottawa is keen to be a ‘foodie’ destination. All the tapas and apps in the world won’t mean much, if we can’t create a trustworthy food shopping experience for residents.


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