Special Report: Farmers Market

Farmers Marked

Newly proposed regulations on farmers' markets could burden them while more plausible health risks from industrial food processing go unattended.

By Jason Leach
Published May 26, 2006

A recent article in the Toronto Star outlined some possible new government regulations aimed at farmers' markets. In the donnybrook that ensued, Health Minister George Smitherman backed down, deciding instead to exempt farmers' markets from existing regulations until such time as a consensus emerges on how best to regulate them without imposing unreasonable burdens on the farmers.

The recently abandoned proposal for new government regulations could burden independent farmers and market stallholders (Photo Credit: Joe Ceretti)
The recently abandoned proposal for new government regulations could burden independent farmers and market stallholders (Photo Credit: Joe Ceretti)

The government said the increased guidelines were necessary for the safety of consumers. Yeah, right. My wife and I do all our grocery shopping at the Hamilton Farmer's Market and are much more secure and comfortable with the level of safety and quality than anything we've ever bought at a mega-store or from a 'brand name' label.

At the market, if I were to buy a bad piece of meat (which I never have) from the Dearsley farm, I would be heading right back there the following day or week to speak with the owner. That's right - the father, owner, head of the farm also comes to the market to get to know his customers.

I'm willing to bet that they'd fall all over themselves in apology if this were ever to happen. At a chain store we would have no hope of meeting the president of the food company who sent the bad piece of meat from who knows what location.

The Star article that generated the furor made brief mention of possible ulterior motives by the government relating to the milk and cheese industries, but I believe there is much more to it than that.

The sale of dairy and eggs in Ontario is highlThe sale of dairy and eggs in Ontario is highly regulated, and market stallholders often work outside industry cartels (Photo Credit: Joe Ceretti)y regulated, and market stallholders often work outside industry cartels (Photo Credit: Joe Ceretti)
The sale of dairy and eggs in Ontario is highly regulated, and market stallholders often work outside industry cartels (Photo Credit: Joe Ceretti)

Folks in Ontario are now well aware that cancer, obesity and many other diseases were far less widespread before our society started consuming processed foods and genetically modified products. If the government was interested in our health, the health of our local economies and cutting costs in the health care system, they would go out of their way to encourage the development of local, organic food growers to sell their products in towns and cities all over the province.

Instead, they subsidize the very corporations that are killing us with their fabricated version of "food" (I use that word very loosely), and punish hard-working farmers who hold the very key to sustainable, local economies and healthy populations.

I've seen a major trend developing among the children of baby boomers to shop at local, organic markets as well as growing our own food. I just helped a friend prepare their first ever vegetable garden in the backyard of their north end home last weekend. My wife and I are preparing to build our first vegetable garden over the next couple of weekends.

There is much more to this trend: voluntary simplicity, contentment, shunning of the consumerism that is killing our society and many other issues beyond this article.

A recent study (PDF) out of the UK examined the impact of farmers' markets on the local economy. It found that the average market shopper spent an additional £3,000-15,000 at neighbouring shops. This is one of the aspects of marketing that is sorely lacking in Hamilton. We have thousands of people using our farmers market each weekend, yet the streets outside of the facility are barren highways.

Imagine life on all four corners of York and McNab. Imagine a market that was extended right outside onto the sidewalks along York. Traffic could be closed off between Park St. and James St., and McNab St. should be given cobblestones with wide sidewalks between York St. and Cannon St. for outdoor stalls, entertainers, buskers, artisans and musicians.

The ground floor of the York parkade needs to be rebuilt along McNab St. to include shops, cafes and other commercial spaces facing the sidewalk. The upcoming renovations to the main entrance to the former Eaton Centre should also include one or two streetfront cafes with patios on York.

A market district would naturally develop along Vine St., York St., McNab St., and Park St. with these reasonable investments from City Hall. As I mentioned in a recent blog, however, our city and Chamber of Commerce have no interest in small business.

Our main streets are designed to be fast-moving highways that will whisk you to the beautiful big box stores that now surround downtown Hamilton in every direction. It's a shame, considering the impact our farmers' market could have on the downtown community with some interest from the city.

Maybe we should rename it the "Wal-Mart Farmers Market" or "Red Hill Expressway Market" so it can receive adequate attention and financial investment. Just kidding. Sort of.

I urge everyone who shops at local farms and their markets to get in touch with your City Councillor and MPP and express your support for these wonderful family businesses. Let the government begin transferring their massive subsidies from Big Food and Big Oil to local businesses that support healthy eating and lifestyle changes: bicycle sellers, farmers' markets, organic farmers, sporting goods and other athletic manufacturers, transit systems, and folks who use transit.

We spend so much money in this society filling hospitals and building cancer clinics, but do nothing to encourage a lifestyle that would empty hospitals and make cancer clinics redundant. I know; that's a whole 'nother article.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By steeltown (registered) | Posted June 01, 2006 at 19:26:10

Just curious isn't the city about to reveal the Farmers' Market redevelopment plan soon? Do you know when that should come out or what will be included in the plan? I know I heard something about slideable glass wall and new parking space on York.

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