Market denial outrages farmers
GRAVENHURST - A couple of area farmers have been denied entry to the Gravenhurst Farmers Market and they aren’t letting go without a fight.
Market denial outrages farmers.
FARMERS WANT IN. Area farmers have rallied around Heather Johnson who is protesting being denied into the Gravenhurst Farmers Market. (Submitted photo)
Heather and Andy Johnson, owners of the Severn Sunset Eco farm, identify themselves as the youngest farmers in the area.
Their small farm is an organic livestock operation, but since these products aren’t generally available until the fall, the Johnsons hoped to sell cut flowers at the market as a foot-in-the-door to inform shoppers about the farm and take orders for the fall.
When they were turned down, the farm community was outraged.
Lynn Murden, secretary of the market’s board of directors, has said that the Johnsons’ application is being reconsidered and that the board is open to dialogue. She said they were rejected from selling cut flowers because the market has a surplus of cut flower vendors already, but that they may be able to sell other products.
Katya Riley of Brooklands Farm in Milford Bay, an activist for the local farm community, began a debate on her Facebook and Twitter pages on Monday.
The conversation was fast and furious and by the end of the day a petition was put online.
Savour Muskoka was one of many to comment on the situation, saying that a “young, productive farming family in Muskoka, being denied to vend at a local farmers market, could perhaps be the best catalyst for discussing the importance of prioritizing local growers first, with not as local or “importer” resalers second.”
Heather Johnson says that most of the food sellers at the popular Gravenhurst Farmers Market are resellers. The president of the board, Barrie Anderson, is an example of someone who buys produce at the terminal in Toronto, trucks it up here and resells from the market.
“There is not a single farmer on the board,” said Heather. “I don’t see how they could represent local farmers. The public feels when they’re shopping there, they are supporting local farms – it’s so sad.”
Murden said there are over 50 co-op members who are eligible to run for one of the nine-member board positions.
“Unfortunately, very few members ever run for the board,” she said, adding that the same few people step up to the plate every year and that if the Johnsons were to apply to the board, they would be the first local farmers to do so.
Heather said that as the youngest property owners of a farm in Gravenhurst, they are the future of local food production. The couple is active in Savour Muskoka and in a group of local farmers who support each other, and are part of the agricultural society.
“If the farmers market doesn’t allow new farmers and young farmers to come in to the market – where will it be in 10 years? If my farm’s not successful, I’m going to stop farming – my family needs to sustain itself – we need to pay our taxes to Gravenhurst.”
The online petition, “Allow local farmers to vend at Gravenhurst Farmers Market,” was started by Melanie Van Pypen.
“The board of directors of the Gravenhurst Farmers Market Co-operative Inc. has been turning away applications from local farmers wishing to vend food and farm product at the market. Also, they have been limiting the farm products that each farmer sells. This petition is a plea to the Gravenhurst Farmers Market board to allow all local farmers to join the market as a priority, and to sell without impedance, any and all products produced on their farms,” it states.
To see the full petition go to thepetitionsite.com/469/295/666/allow-local-farmers-to-vend-at-gravenhurst-farmers-market/.
Riley says the policy at the market needs to be changed so local farmers are allowed into the market – period – end of story.
“We have 105 registered farms, and only a handful are producing food that goes to people’s tables. A lot of the farms are fallow,” she said. “This is ridiculous – our demand on behalf of the community is that local farmers be accepted onto the farmers market - period.”
The board president was in the United States when this paper tried to reach him so he was unable to comment on the accusations levelled against the board.
But Murden said the board is reviewing the Johnsons’ application.
Although the email sent to the farmers and copied to this paper says their application has been denied for this year, Murden said, “This woman was accepted on with many other products – it’s just the one product (flowers).”
The market limits the number of people selling any one product, such as cut flowers or jams and jellies, to prevent competition between vendors.
“Last year there were guest vendors with flowers and they all went back with a lot of flowers,” she said.
Murden said that 66 per cent (six out of nine) of the market’s directors are from Muskoka, as are 75 per cent of vendors. Approximately 55 per cent of vendors are producers or secondary producers, such as bakers, makers of preserves and maple syrup.
The rest of the vendors include artists, craftspeople, resellers and vendors who sell things like wild blueberries.
“We have had a similar mix for many years and with the market entering its 22nd season… it seems to be working for the vendors and the customers who keep coming back year after year,” she said.
The group protesting on social media expressed concern that the president of the board is a reseller and they don’t know of any farmers on the board.
“I am totally dismayed and upset to see how a few vendors have taken the work of long-serving, dedicated volunteers and made it sound like we are not only in it for our own selfish reasons but are anti-farmers to boot. I can’t begin to count the number of hours board members have dedicated to the vendors of the Gravenhurst Farmers Market, and have done their very best to make sound, common-sense decisions based on the good of the market and its members,” she said in an email to this paper.
Murden has been a vendor at the market for 21 years.
“This is leaving a very sour taste in my mouth. I only wish people would get their facts straight before jumping on the bandwagon, signing petitions, tweeting and facebooking about things without knowing the facts. A quiet conversation, with questions asked and answered in a calm, respectful manner would have been a much better way to have gone about this.”
Mayor Paisley Donaldson said that the market’s mandate is to promote food grown in Muskoka, but that is not part of their lease with the town, which owns the wharf property where the market takes place.
She said the market is in no way subsidized by Gravenhurst taxpayers.
Murden echoed that statements.
“We pay a pretty hefty rent every year … we’ve been arguing that it’s high,” she said. “We pay rent and bring in tourists and a lot of extra people into Gravenhurst.”