Hello The first market we attended was the Milton Farmers Market run by the BIA with little to no influence for growers and always with strong resellers with very low prices taking advantage of the often consignment based food system run through the food terminal. The BIA believed they needed to get lots of people in who needed food in what had become an under serviced area in downtown when the local store moved a couple km away. Part of how we create food deserts in urban spaces. They moved to the Super Centres. The Milton BIA did a great job advertising the market to tens of thousands of new neighbourhoods, working at creating a flow to the market and the community a a whole does love their market. We did well enough to sell our overflow veggies at a good price so no complaints but it’s a difficult system.
I was on the board of FoodShare Toronto in 2000 and they wanted to support building new markets into Toronto. They had approached med and large scale farms to do it and no one would since the sales required to justify it were prohibitive and market concentration and shopping habits are what they are. We then were amongst the founding growers of Riverdale, Dufferin Grove, Trinity Bellwoods, Wychwood, Withrow and Sorauren Martkets, plus the Junction and Parkdale for the local community centre. We chose these markets because we were running a large CSA and had overflow produce as well as good connections to overflow food from other growers. We could afford it if the overflow didn’t sell… We managed to work with people who were supporting Grower Priority Rules wherein if a grower did the work to get a product to market, he could sell it. We also worked in an infill process to support the growth of the market, it’s vendors and the offerings to market goers. Growers can bring 30% or so of product which is not theirs but from an agreed upon source. This product cannot compete if another market vendor has the product available from his own farm. Civil rules to support farmers producing food locally. The more you produce the more you can sell of infill products. The rules were modelled after NYC’s Green Markets and didn’t have food terminal resellers. Consider some 90+ % of people get their food through the stores. At Plan B we focused on building these markets over a number of years and succeeded in selling most of our overflow foods from 25 acres through them or at least enough to get a fair return on the last of our production, which more than one can reasonably expect to get… especially when we made a good living on the bulk of our CSA crops.
In the span of some 7 years there were some 50 + more markets developed in the areas and people’s shopping habits hadn’t changed. 90+ % still buying in the stores and everyone else still sharing the left overs but split more ways. It meant that markets where we were peaking at $6500 in sales are more like $500 - $1500 markets now. We find markets are very difficult to work with because they are very speculative sales and often you come home with too much of your hard work. Like I said, we can afford to do it and believe in it. We mostly agree to do a certain number to have an outlet for our overflow food and to reach a critical mass of size wherein it’s worth it to put a crop in and expect to make a living from it… We see them mostly as a social function wherein we’d like to be able to reserve the right to bring foods directly into our communities and create meaningful work for ourselves and others.
Many young or new growers we have seen will go to a market and hope to sell their food but not succeed. It’s very difficult to build markets. People are used to one stop shop everywhere. Location, logistics and generations of consumer habits no longer connected to the productive cycle. This is why we run a mixed farm CSA approach. We find it helps create what our customers want and need in their food source, and helps us to get a fair price on our production within that system.
As growers we have worked with managers of small markets who continuously brought far too many similar vendors to market. In the hopes of growth. Nobody sold much of anything and nobody made any money. How many growers a market needs and can sustain is very important to measure.
As growers we have also worked with market managers who are diligent in discussing the community’s needs and getting growers to take on those responsibilities. Often other farmers were not invited to markets because it was clear that their 12 main crops were the same 12 crops that several farmers at the market were already going home with plenty of. Growers who showed a willingness to produce diverse crops not supplied by the current growers were preferred.
Market managers need to work with farmers to help support farmers growing food for communities. We are approx. 10% self sufficient in Ontario and our entire food system is predicated on a just in time engineered cheap food policy which is bringing us food deserts and skyrocketing prices. Food Sovereignty means we need to have help from our communities to build better alternatives to food production and distribution models.
We call it the Short Chain, or Horizontal Trading:) Part of building up our Local Ecology is building our Local Economy. The money your customers spend mostly stays in their community and is spent again and again. That’s now we generate real wealth in a society. Linking Production and Consumption cooperatively. At Plan B selling direct means we are in the 30th percentile of farm size but closer 70 % in sales. Thanks for the Food for Thought.