Special Report

Friends of Hamilton Farmers' Market Calls on City to be More Inclusive

In a letter to staff and the Farmers' Market Transition Sub-Committee, Jennifer Hompoth argues that bureaucratic transactions do not make for real inclusiveness.

By RTH Staff
Published November 30, 2010

A group calling itself Friends of Hamilton Farmers' Market (you can contact their mailing list) held a meeting last night at FRWY Cafe, 333 King St. E., to discuss the way the City has managed stallholder applications at the renovated Farmers' Market. On behalf of the group, Jennifer Hompoth sent a letter of concern to Anna Bradford, the culture division director in the City's community services department, and the members of the Hamilton Farmers' Market Transition Sub-Committee.

Writing of "tenuous handshakes and teary embraces" with stallholders concerned about their futures, Hompoth argues that the stallholder application process did not adequately take issues of ethnicity, language, literacy, and technology access into consideration.

In her recommendations, she notes that "consultation does not equal participation" and argues that a bureaucratic process does not equate to true inclusion. "Emphasize face-to-face transactions rather than only paperwork."

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Ms. Bradford,

I write as a member of the Friends of the Hamilton Farmers' Market, and seek to address my concerns to you with reference to issues of equity of access as these relates to literacy, language issues, and technology as pertaining to the application and appeal processes.

Understandably, I can only imagine that you have had a very difficult task of overseeing and providing direction to the Hamilton Farmers' Market Transition Sub-Committee decision-making.

I want to appreciate this, in all sincerity. Your recent endeavours to meet with stallholders to complete each applicants' profile and information are surely signs of flexibility, movements which can only inform a more complete picture of each vendor, their contribution to the market, and their products.

In framing this request, I share with you that I have personally spent perhaps over 100 hours in the last few weeks attempting to gain a thorough perspective on the issues affecting the vendors through this difficult time of transition. This has meant doing the clumsy work of translating documents and conversations in languages other than English for vendors at once grateful and embarrassed by their language skills.

It has meant extending tenuous handshakes and teary embraces to people whose livelihoods and sense of dignity have been precariously hanging on a fine balance in recent days.

For me, the human dimension of those affected has been at the centre of my attempts to creatively devise solutions that uphold the history, diversity, and sense of community that form the heart of the Hamilton Farmers' Market.

As a consumer and resident of Hamilton, the market is a burgeoning heart of cosmopolitanism; its raw beauty, its richness is woven from the multitextured threads of the unique vendors and diverse cultural communities who have created this place as their home.

There are two related issues with respect to ethnocultural and linguistic diversity which figure centrally in the Hamilton Farmers' Market transition process.

Let me try to explain the first, the issue of language and literacy, by way of a story. Concerned that some vendors might face barriers submitting the request to speak to a committee of council form on the City website, a group of three of us - all twenty-somethings with macbooks and PCs in hand - ambled into the market early last week. We invited vendors to join with us, in a huddle near the only location with acceptable free wifi, to fill out their forms and submit their appeals requests online.

One vendor shyly approached, eager to give her name and information, as if to hinge all hope on the complex process set out before her. Not wanting her to spend precious moments waiting for my clumsy data entry, I absent-mindedly replied, "oh, just write everything down on this piece of paper."

Minutes later, following some time spent diagnosing my misbehaving laptop computer, I looked up at her. She shook her head, "I don't know." Inscribing her address, as I had requested, was a moment of shame and confusion. She had only managed to write her name, in large, clumsy print.

Although I have extensive training in anti-racism and have worked all my life with people from a range of cultural backgrounds, it was this moment which made me realize that I had placed my assumptions of literacy in the foreground, without considering the person with whom I was speaking. All while attempting to intervene in an access issue!

I believe that similar kinds of assumptions - but with much greater weight - have operated in the application process to systemically exclude those who lack access to technological or language skills necessary to receive equal consideration.

Several other vendors have shared that they do not own computers, and most do not maintain their own email addresses from which to receive correspondence from the Clerk's office regarding their appeal.

While I believe certain provisions or open invitations were made to assist individual vendors with their applications, the process itself was designed without these people in mind.

People with very little power, who are already intimidated by a process from the outset will find it difficult to ask the same staff whom they perceive to be invested in decision-making for assistance.

Sometimes the offer of help needs to be communicated, translated, and made real through actions, and not just words - this is an insight which I gather you, personally, are attempting to act upon recently, for which I offer my thanks.

These considerations should be useful in light of decision-making with regards to the situations of the Tran family of Lee Fresh Produce and The Troung family, of Truong Produce.

I hope I have adequately outlined my concerns regarding the "equality of opportunity" issues inherent in the applications and appeals processes faced by people whose livelihoods are rooted in the stuff of agrarian and mercantile transactions, by languages and cultures other than English, and not by the language and movements of bureaucracy (like my own penchant for waxing academic, at times, for which I appreciate your good humour).

I have worked alongside vendors, and have accessed language-specific translation to better communicate together where neccessary. I have the personal benefit of holding several academic degrees, and the ability to speak English, French, Hungarian, Spanish, and Chinese.

I believe that some of these issues are addressed through strategies to increase cross-cultural and linguistic differences. My second major concern for diversity reflects a deeper problematic concerning the idea of who is "in" and who is "out," based on an uncritical celebration of the local, at the expense of anyone, or anything, which appears to be "foreign/imported/other."

I need to express my deep discomfort that a discourse of localism, hinging on cultural exclusion and tinged with racial overtones, has been whispered amongst all of the conversations justifying the application process. I do not locate the city alone as the locus of these whispers, although its documents have, at times, amplified the language: "international" used synonymously with "disqualified," (correspondence with the office of Councillor Bratina, Nov. 17th, 2010), "local" meaning "not those others."

The worst of these whispers has moved from a discussion of international produce itself, to generate a "type" of unwanted person or vendor: "those Asians" who resell food from the food terminal. At best, this is a misguided nostalgia for a time and "purity" of culture which some feel to be lost at the expense of global change.

At worst, this is a xenophobia which refuses to recognize the contributions of successive generations of immigrants - be they from Scotland, England, Holland, Hungary, Portugal, Vietnam, South America, Italy, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Iran, Lebanon, Poland, or the Philippines. (This list, though not exhaustive, is drawn from the cultural heritage of the current market vendors).

A walk through the market reveals that products like samosas, garlic, panini, mozzarella, chestnuts, ginger, and bok choi (not to mention coffee and tea - the stuff of wars and conquests) have become venerable parts of a gastronomy enjoyed by all.

The reality of our global economic and social framework is this: in an urban centre such as Hamilton, these historic interchanges, settlements, and contributions actually form the local. Furthermore, the seduction of the local as inherently better than larger-scale spatial approaches is hollow; cities need to consider a holistic analysis of food systems planning, in the context of national and global food production, sustainability, urban/rural economics, and consumer food needs.

In many ways, the term "local" means the people who are already here; the market is a common space, for the common good. Food is at the heart of our cultures - all of them - and the Hamilton Farmers' Market is a vital part of our history, and key to our future.

It would be deplorable to see Hamilton's emphasis on the "local" as a way to divide the market merchants, and consumers, whether this be based on ethnic, racial, or class lines. I urge you to examine how the lens of the "local" has been employed to dismiss or exclude particular types of goods, and more importantly, the cultural groups and vendors to whom these products belong.

Considerations for inclusion and diversity:

1) Consultation does not equal participation. While the former approaches decision-making from a mode of "consent and input given," the latter seeks true inclusion. The questions and goals are established through shared consensus, and power-sharing amongst all stakeholders to define the process is maintained through systemic commitments and structures. I.e. cooperatives, participatory budgeting, community-based participatory research.

Elected representatives are given terms of reference that are crafted through community support, and flexible to respond to change if the outcomes do not match intended shared goals.

2) Be vigilant about our own assumptions: since it is difficult to see one's own assumptions, listen to others. If what others experience is lack of clarity, or exclusion, chances are there might be something to this which originates in our own assumptions, manner of communication, our own cultural norms, etc.

3) Standards are never neutral. Criteria always reflect the deepest values and identity of the groups who have the power to craft these standards. To move to true inclusive standards, we have to be able to accept that several standards might operate simultaneously, and that differences are beneficial to a robust democracy and marketplace.

For example, one may purchase top grade "Canada Extra Fancy" apples for eating, producing still life portraits, or gifting to teachers, while seconds may make great applesauce. Similarly, I may choose to purchase regional, seasonal produce at times, and also choose to enjoy tropical fruits, vegetables, spices, and products grown only in other latitudes and climates.

Specific Considerations through the market transition process:

  • Contact individual vendors to make appointments to discuss their individual application results. Make it evident to them that their applications are not merely descriptive, but aspirational: what would they envision their business to be, in order to grow? Allow them enough time to arrange for translation and/or representation. It is very scary for some to approach the market office; think of approaching a superior towards whom even a single mistake could mean the difference between your livelihood's continuation, or termination.

  • Emphasize face-to-face transactions rather than only paperwork. Forms, applications, and letters can be very difficult to navigate for stallholders for reasons outlined above. Be aware of the power differences structuring some vendors' willingness to nod their heads in agreement, or to comply with requests. They may not understand everything, and could be agreeing so as not to offend their interlocutor.

  • Try to see how each vendors fits into the "local" entity that is the Hamilton Farmers' Market. Each successful vendor has a particular niche, a particular clientele, and usually, some little quirks which make Hamilton, and our Farmers' Market, a diverse, vibrant place. Some vendors refer to longtime neighbours in terms of family - some are "born in the market" characters, some are grouchy neighbours - but all are like a family. Or, better yet, a microcosm of society - one in which I hope democratic process, empathy, and mutual appreciation of our differences will prevail.

  • Beyond this transition period, the Council needs to seriously entertain suggestions to make the governance of the market work; this could include a move to a Board structure, including citizen and stallholder participation, to a social economy organization such as a cooperative, and/or the possibility of placing the market under an organizational structure that will allow it to easily refer relevant immigration, employment, poverty, food security, and other Community Services concerns.

    An understanding of the Hamilton Farmers' Market as for belonging to the people is central in advancing any type of agenda around its development and future.

Thank you for your attention to the many issues raised in this correspondence.


Jennifer Hompoth,

Friends of Hamilton Farmers' Market.


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By peter (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2010 at 00:39:08

^That sounds promising.

Overall, I agree with the idea the City has put forth for the market but we've got to be flexible on this. And we certainly can't restrict people based on incomplete applications - second language issues must be taken into account.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2010 at 20:55:25

Good on Jennifer Hompoth and Friends of the Hamilton Farmer's Market for helping these people.

All too often those of us who deal with massive amounts of sophisticated paperwork - be it tax forms, license applications, legal documents, medical files, etc. assume that others can just as easily navigate a "simple" vendor application form. But as I commented in the other post, and as Jennifer has pointed out, there are many who don't who lack those skills - for a variety of reasons (age, language, literacy, disability, etc.).

Whenever we're faced with these situations we have to take an extra step. Mailing a form is not enough. Mailing a letter advising them of their legal rights is not enough. Sometimes you need to sit down and talk to people in order to properly engage them.

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By F_Hayek (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2010 at 08:54:51

something's up:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 8:47 AM
Subject: FW: Special Meeting of Council - December 7, 2010

Please be advised that there will be a special meeting of Council on Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. respecting the following matters:

(a) Rural Official Plan - OMB Matter.
(b) Amendment to the Farmers' Market By-law.

The Planning Committee meeting will be recessed and reconvened in order to accommodate this special Council meeting.

The agenda for the Council meeting will be distributed as soon as possible.

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By JH (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2010 at 14:23:49

Just to clarify, this letter was a personal email submission to Anna Bradford and Councillors, in partial representation of the Friends of the Hamilton Farmers' Market.
There are two issues that have come to the fore for me in addressing the decisions surrounding the Hamilton Farmers' Market redevelopment. The first is the issue of democratic process; where consultation, it is claimed, was the grounds for much of the decision-making, a frank analysis of the issues, and simple conversation with vendors, reveals that this was simply not the case. The second, and perhaps more controversial issue, relates to the question of standards--points systems, and particular standards always privilege particular values, groups, etc.. We need to acknowledge this before arriving at the conclusion that the operation of the "local" discourse, as used by the City, is a self-evident good, especially when it completely obscures the social relations and reality that have historically formed the market, and the downtown core. Particularly when the ideas around localism are inveighed to exclude. So these two issues are related; the question of process, and the questions of "whose standards?" To me, these are paramount to a genuine discussion of inclusion, diversity, and forward-thinking social and municipal change.

I, too, am curious about the special Council meeting occurring on Tuesday.

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By The nose knows (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2010 at 18:00:55

They need to sniff out whoever is causing that god-awful stink that permeates through the temporary market and kick them out. That alone will make it a better place.

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By JH (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2010 at 01:31:47

Re: the nose knows...

Today, I was shown a huge pile of boxes and trash---heaped well above the 12 foot barriers vendors are allowed to have dividing up their stands, wedged in between the Threads of Life stall, and the garbage/loading area. This poor vendor has had to put up with this spot for over a year, paying full rent for her stall. This vacant stall (yes, unbelievable, given the apparently lengthy waiting list of 70 vendors) is the purview of the City and market management. Apparently the trash heap has been here for over a year, and the implications of this is the general stuff of neglected, ever evolving refuse...not to mention the soon-to-be displaced rodent colony it is hosting...despite the pleas of the vendors to have it removed. Selective enforcement of cleanliness = problematic, especially when the arbitrary eviction of a vendor is now enshrined in their new contracts. 'Just sayin'

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By JH (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2010 at 23:11:25

Apparently, someone at the City is reading RTH; or it is just coincidence that the day after this post on the garbage pile was noted, the very next day, city custodial staff were working hard to clear the piles of rodent feces. If only the clearing of the murky and undemocratic decision making were as obvious as sweeping rat poo away....

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By timo1 (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 02:58:03

I can't completely equate the idea of local with exclusion, though I can see the concern. The fetishization of food serves only to price it out of reach for most, or maybe that's a case of poor choices being made? At the same time, I have as much concern for those picking and packing our food overseas who are being paid slave wages. However, whatever the concerns, the only way to mitigate these problems, indeed the only way for the average person to act, is at the local level.

I believe the desire is to create an atmosphere that appeals to a broader set of people within the community of Hamilton. To do this management is attempting to bring in higher quality products, to support growers in Ontario who come from every conceivable background and thus support the economic and social benefits that come with an improved city market.

I understand that we often judge things based on our own prejudices and bias, but does that completely eradicate the idea of merit and quality? Yes, what's quality to me may not be quality to you, and what meets my needs may not meet yours, but I envision endless argument, a sure road to impasse and this community market suffering as a result.

I'm not familiar with the governance of this market. It is paramount to have some structure in place that people trust, if not council itself, to make decisions. That committee must have the ability to exclude people if necessary to best execute their given mandate and vision.

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By ravirajusai (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2018 at 04:44:17

I'm not familiar with the governance of this market. It is paramount to have some structure in place that people trust brown

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