Peterborough Market ousts farmers who complained that some sold produce that wasn't local

Five agricultural producers have just been kicked out of a market in Peterborough, Ont. — one of Ontario’s largest farmers markets — after complaining about other vendors masquerading as growers of all the produce they sell.

Five growers who spoke out about vendors misleading consumers about where food was grown called 'dissident'

In a handout to members, the five farmers are described as 'dissident members' and warns that failure to eject them means the 'campaign of malice continues.' (Submitted by Astrid Manske)

With spring taking grip across Canada, farmers markets are returning to public spaces. But five agricultural producers have been kicked out of one of Ontario's largest markets after speaking out about other vendors masquerading as growers of all the produce they sell.

Meanwhile, there is no indication that vendors who were exposed as misleading consumers faced any sanctions. They told CBC News that they will be returning to the market this season. 

"I was shocked," said Astrid Manske, who runs an apiary and relies on the market to sell her honey. "Why kick us out? Why not talk to us?"

More than a year ago, Manske raised concerns about lack of transparency around reselling with the Peterborough & District Farmers' Market Association (PDFMA). But she felt those concerns weren't being addressed and subsequently spoke out as part of a CBC Marketplace investigation.

The investigation exposed how some vendors at the Peterborough Farmers' Market were misleading consumers by claiming to grow fruits and vegetables that were actually purchased at a wholesale food terminal. The investigation showed the same practice happening elsewhere in Ontario and prompted questions about transparency at farmers' markets across Canada.

Manske and the four other growers ousted from the market — including berry, garlic and organic growers — aren't opposed to the resellers remaining. But they say signage should clearly indicate what is grown by vendors and what is being resold.

Taking that position appears to have cost them their livelihood.

In the letter ousting Manske and four others, the market told them "speaking publicly about the PDFMA and portraying it in a negative manner" was a factor in their removal.

"It's my fault that they're in this boat now," Manske said. "That's their message to me."

Bailiff visited farms of 'dissident members'

The farmers market association called a vote in the winter on whether the five farmers who'd spoken out about resellers should be allowed to stay.

In a handout to members — provided to CBC by Manske — the five are described as "dissident members." The handout warned that failure to eject them means the "campaign of malice continues."

Astrid Manske, shown bottling honey at her farm in Indian River, Ont., is one of five farmers who have been kicked out of a Peterborough farmers market after speaking to CBC about other vendors misleading shoppers about whether they grow their own produce. (David Common/CBC)

After the vote was held, Manske was permitted to stay. But the board later overruled that decision and sent a bailiff to each of the five farms with a letter informing the growers of their removal from the market.

The Peterborough & District Farmers' Market Association did not respond when asked directly whether the farmers speaking out publicly about resellers played any role in the decision to remove them. 

"The opportunity to sells goods or produce at the Peterborough Farmers' Market is a privilege," the association said in a statement.

"It is of paramount importance that vendors work as a team and treat each other with respect, courtesy and fairness."

Farmers without a market

Sam McLean is among the five who spoke out. His family farm has been at the Peterborough Farmers' Market for the past 27 years but is no longer welcome to sell.

McLean, a past president of the market and a longtime local berry farmer, is shocked.

After being kicked out of the Peterborough market, berry farmer Sam MacLean has lost his single biggest selling point. (David Common/CBC)

"It's a big hit for us, economically," he said. "To take that rug out from under us, and take that market away from us, now we're left that we haven't got a place to sell."

There are other markets, but none of the same size. MacLean's crop is already underway. He must now drum up other opportunities.