Fake Farmers Selling Food Terminal Produce
Gravenhurst Banner, 2017
(My response to the Gravenhurst Farmers Market's claim that the CBC Market Place report was one-sided)

Fake farmers selling food terminal produce

Governments in this country have done virtually nothing to protect us from the fraudsters

The complaint aired in the CBC Marketplace exposé was that resellers were passing themselves off as true farmers, and were undercutting those who really work on the land and grow what they sell. There is another evil related to this that was not dealt with in the Marketplace report, but concerned citizens can go online and read about it in the Peterborough Examiner. I refer to the fact that the produce resellers at Peterborough are in control of that market. Consequently, the market's governance is skewed in their favour, to the disadvantage of farmers and the gutting of democracy. Customers, market vendors and communities pay a price for this. The Peterborough vendors who raised the alarm are brave souls. Most vendors are too cowed to speak up.

Some Gravenhurst vendors expressed the fear that the Peterborough troubles may cast a long shadow into Muskoka. But the Gravenhurst Market has, over the years, cast its own long shadows, shadows that do the market and its vendors, and farmers' markets in general, no credit. Whenever there are market troubles, the Gravenhurst Market calls forth its striped cats to meow pitifully and plaintively about how their livelihood is being endangered by troublemakers and ingrates. Even farmers are suborned to meow. Are we to understand that the honest, hardworking vendors, and the farmers in particular, at the Gravenhurst Market would not want to see unfairness undone?

During the investigation at Peterborough, when the fake farmers were uncovered by tracing their produce stickers to large wholesalers, the resellers adapted by removing the stickers. Resellers can be expected to say and do whatever they can to diffuse criticism. In the Marketplace report, we see the Peterborough Market engaged in the same kind of damage control we witness here in Muskoka.

The issue here is deception. The issue is fraud. The fake farmers are selling their food terminal produce, and the produce of other large wholesalers, at local farm prices, which, in the Marketplace report, were about 50 per cent higher than supermarket prices. People are paying for something they are not getting. People are being cheated.

We are talking about principle and fair dealing. The real farmers are what they say they are. The others are dissemblers. Is it one-sided to point that out? When we see our values undermined, do we not have a right — nay, an obligation — to speak out?

If one is concerned with fairness — good citizens always are — it may seem at first glance that produce resellers ought to be entitled to sell their wares in the public spaces, at the farmers' markets, just like the crafters and the vendors who are reselling non-edible items — provided that they were unambiguously identified as resellers AND were not attempting to sell at local farm and organic prices AND certification was in plain view at their stalls detailing the purchases made by them and giving the origin of each item on sale that day AND there were government inspections designed to ensure compliance.

But who would buy from these resellers? If produce resellers were clearly — absolutely unambiguously — identified as such, would their businesses prosper at a farmers' market? If the answer is no, then the logical concomitant of this is that produce resellers can do well only if it is not known or understood that they are resellers. In other words, produce resellers must be deceptive in order to make money. If this is so, and it appears to be so, then there can be no place for produce resellers at farmers' markets.

Yes, there is an agenda. It is the agenda of all those who want this province to have first-rate farmers' markets, run by principled people, in the inseparable interest of farmers and the community. And that agenda is trust and transparency. The people of this province have a right to no less. Why should public spaces be rented out to markets that have no such commitment?

Governments in this country have done virtually nothing to protect us from the fraudsters, and the evils consequent upon ignoring the problems they create. The Province of Ontario needs to accept responsibility. Queen's Park needs to set the rules for farmers' markets. We should demand that they do so without further delay.

Wendel Messer Gravenhurst
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