Manitoba farmers' market takes stand against Ontario vendors caught lying to consumers
St. Norbert Farmers' Market puts vendors through annual inspections to ensure products locally grown: director
A Manitoba farmers market says they take steps to make sure produce labelled as "local," was not grown by mass-market manufacturers — unlike some markets in a neighbouring province.
On Friday, a CBC Marketplace investigation in Ontario exposed several instances where farmers market vendors in that province misled shoppers about where their produce came from.
Some outright lied and claimed to have locally grown their products, but were then linked back to mass producers in the province.
"To take something that's in Ontario and say it's true in Manitoba, I think that's sort of taking a leap," Marilyn Firth said Saturday over the phone from the St. Norbert Farmers' Market in Winnipeg.
Firth, executive director of the non-profit co-operative market, said reselling seems to happen often at the Ontario markets near where she used to live — and sometimes vendors were even up front about it.
Farmers Markets are largely unregulated in Canada, which is one reason why St. Norbert's Farmers Market holds to its own set of strict checks and balances, Firth said.
"At our farmers market we inspect all of our vendors — whether they're making, baking or growing — to ensure they're making it themselves or growing it themselves," Firth said. "That's not necessarily true province-wide. There's no government organization that does that, but we as a market made that commitment.
The St. Norbert Farmers Market hires independent inspectors with expertise in the organic farming and crafting sectors that visit and assess each vendor's operation, Firth said. Vendors must submit to checks once every spring, she said.
Firth guessed that in the past 10 years there's only been a couple instances that she knows of where a vendor tried to sell products they didn't grow or create themselves.
In one such case, a vendor was caught buying bulk flour, and then repackaging and selling it. When the vendor refused to comply with an ultimatum to start producing their own, Firth says the market kicked them out.
"There's no such thing as a perfect system. Of course there's opportunity for that to happen, but we are vigilant at our market, and we do keep an eye on things and watch what's coming in and do our very best to track it," said Firth.
She said their in-house rules weren't solely conceived of by market management.
"It was actually our vendors who wanted to have an inspection process, they wanted to feel that people weren't just able to purchase stuff and resell it. They wanted this market to be the kind of market it is," Firth said.
"When people come to our market they can feel confident that the products here are being produced by the people who are here representing them."
With files from Bryce Hoye, Luke Denne and Tiffany Foxcroft