Posted in 2013

Gravenhurst Farmers Market

“Insulting, abusive, and slanderous.”




Wendel Messer Protesting at Gravenhurst Farmers Market
Photo: What's Up Muskoka

 Gravenhurst Farmers Market boots author of Farmers Market novel
Norah Fountain, Muskoka News Watch, July 30, 2013

Book “insulting, abusive and slanderous” claim market directors

A murder mystery novel entitled Farmers Market that’s set in a town closely resembling Gravenhurst has resulted in its author being kicked out of the Gravenhurst Farmers Market. Charging author Wendel Messer was guilty of a third bylaw offence because of the book’s content, directors of the Gravenhurst Farmers Market Co-operative revoked Messer’s vendor status effective July 10.

Messer has been a vendor with the Gravenhurst market since 2008; he has been selling in several markets for 12 years; and has held chair and director positions on two other market boards. A Notice of Offense and Revocation of Vendor Status shows Messer received three warnings from the Co-operative’s board — and the contents of his book were grounds for the second and third strikes against him. “The insulting, abusive and slanderous content of this book constitutes an appalling violation of the Market by-laws and their spirit,” reads the wording of the Notice. Messer’s novel places the fictional town of “Gravywurst” in New York State and while Messer says it’s obvious Muskoka is the inspiration for the book’s setting (there’s even a steamship called the Segwun), he says the market directors’ complaints against him are “bogus.”

“On July 10, a deputation from the board of directors came to me with a list of complaints,” says Messer, describing what happened the day he lost his vendor status. “I told them I didn’t agree with the document they handed me and when they asked me to take my book off the table, I complied. The board chair made a video of the proceedings and they left when I took the book off the table.”

But the directors weren’t done, says Messer. “Toward market close, the chair and wife of one of the directors came to my table and gave me another document revoking my vendor status,” he says. “They told me not to come back.” Following his dismissal, Messer says he wanted to put up a “Banned in Gravenhurst” sign in relation to his book in other Muskoka farmers’ markets, but those markets would not allow him to do it. He adds the board of the Rosseau Farmers Market has bought a copy and the directors plan to read it, but “for what reason, I can’t imagine,” says Messer. As for the Gravenhurst board of directors, Messer says his exchanges with the board have always been civil. Still, the board did take issue when he wrote a letter to the editor of the Gravenhurst Banner in March after controversy over the market’s exclusion of a local farmer made headlines. Heather and Andy Johnson, owners of the Severn Sunset Eco Farm, wanted to sell cut flowers at the market but were refused due to the market policy of not allowing duplication of items offered in the market.

Others cried foul as the Johnsons are local farmers, while some market members are not. The issue was resolved with the Johnsons in the spring, and now they are vendors at the market At about the same time, a letter entitled “Boycott the Directors, not the Market” was published in the Gravenhurst Banner in March. In the letter, Messer called for the board of directors to be dissolved. Messer was also involved in a market reform committee called the Committee of Ten.

Fictional novel the last straw

A Notice of Offense dated July 5 notes that Messer received a verbal warning from several members of the Board of Directors as well as other co-op members that he was allegedly acting in a rude, disruptive and/or offensive matter that was contrary to market By-Laws. The Notice also mentions letters written to the press that the Notice states prompted other market members to be concerned about negative publicity that could potentially harm the market. That verbal warning was strike one. Strike two is also contained in the Notice of July 5: the Board charges Messer actively promoted and sold his book, Farmers Market, on the market days of June 26 and July 3 when the book was not approved for sale at the Market. According to the market bylaws, the acceptance of any products “is strictly at the discretion of the board.”

People connected to other farmers markets don’t agree with the ‘rude and disruptive’ description aimed at Messer. At the Bala Farmers Market on Monday, one person who asked not to be identified, described him as “consistent, dependable, courteous to customers and market staff.”