By Connor Lynch
BROCKVILLE — A CBC Marketplace investigation turned up 10 resellers at farmers’ markets who claim they are growing the produce themselves.
The situation isn’t new and won’t be resolved until the province steps in, Farmers’ Markets Ontario’s executive director Catherine Clark told Farmers Forum. Part of the problem is many markets simply don’t have the resources to investigate whether vendors are who they say they are, while other markets don’t care, she said. “They’re just selling space.”
It’s impossible to say how widespread the problem is, but it’s one that’s been around for decades and won’t go away any time soon, said Clark.
There’s a place for resellers at many farmers’ markets, she said, because many consumers going to farmers’ markets don’t understand that if they want to buy local, they can’t buy everything year round. “Common sense would dictate that you wouldn’t find corn at a farmers’ market in the spring,” Clark said. But consumers used to shopping at a grocery store where they can find corn in the spring might not realize that, she said.
Essex County vegetable grower Steve Bouchard said that the issue of resellers claiming to be growers is an ongoing frustration, especially in markets closer to Toronto.
In his area, he said, markets have done a good job of weeding out dishonest resellers. He added, however, that in the Windsor-Essex area, there are few growers small enough for it to be worth it to sell at market, so everyone knows them.
Farmers’ markets need to step up when it comes to dishonest resellers, said Clark. Plenty of markets try to only have farmers at the market, but without verifying them, “How do you know for sure?”
Clark said that some farmers have quit selling at farmers’ markets because they can’t compete with unscrupulous resellers claiming to grow their own produce. Emerging farmers’ markets in Ontario have died out because resellers have pushed all the farmers away, she said. She wants to see markets prioritize farmers who use her organization’s MyPick program, which will visit the farm to verify that the farmer actually grows the product he claims to produce. That might take the form of giving MyPick verified farmers a discount on membership.
The North Bay Farmers’ Market dealt with a problem with resellers four years ago. It required all of its producers to be verified by MyPick. However, the fix was also likely easier for North Bay, said Clark, given it’s a four-hour drive down a tolled highway from the main produce purchasing point at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto.
Resellers looking to pass off purchased produce as personal product are especially willing to take advantage of newly emerging farmers’ markets in Ontario. Those markets tend not to last, said Clark, because the genuine farmers coming to them can’t compete with the resellers and leave. Markets are difficult to organize, and the leaders of the markets are often too willing to accept new producers to get the market going, she said.