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This article was published 18/9/2009 (2775 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A small Manitoba potato farmer claims he's being forced underground by rules that require all provincial spuds to be sold through Peak of the Market.
In August, the provincial vegetable-marketing board sent Otterburne-area farmer Trevor Schriemer a "potato general order" that requires him to document where his taters were travelling after learning he was selling some of his crop to Sobey's, a national chain. Under Manitoba regulations, all potato farmers must sell their spuds through Peak of the Market, which charges a small levy in exchange for the ability to pool, brand and market their produce.
Now Schriemer claims he's been warned not to sell potatoes anywhere, not even at the farmers' markets, small groceries and roadside stands where he says he sells most of his product.
"They told me nobody is allowed to sell potatoes unless they are a registered grower through Peak of the Market," said Schriemer, owner of Schriemer Family Farms, whose crop mostly consists of the small creamer potatoes sought out by foodies at farmers' markets and specialty stores.
In the lingo of industrial marketing, small, thin-skinned spuds are called "immature potatoes." Peak of the Market, which typically sells larger, thick-skinned spuds that mature later in the season, sent Schriemer an order after finding out he sold some more substantial potatoes to Sobeys.
"Ninety per cent of my market is small potatoes. This year I happened to have marketed my large potatoes to a couple of Sobey's stores, and that was a horrible thing, apparently," he said. "Now they're telling me I can't even sell potatoes in a shack on my own property."
Peak of the Market, which supplies retailers and restaurants with 120 varieties of Manitoba veggies grown by 40 different producers, has typically ignored small producers and retailers in the past, said president Larry McIntosh. Schriemer was sent an order because he sold to a national chain, he said.
But Peak of the Market is planning to come up with new regulations next year to formalize the way small producers sell to farmers' markets, whose popularity is increasing as more consumers seek out local produce and desire knowledge about the origins of their food.
"Technically, they're covered under the regulations. Historically we haven't worried about farmers' markets because it's a small acreage," McIntosh said. "I can't speculate until I meet with my board, but we're not going to do anything to put out the local producer. We want to do what's best for the industry as a whole."
Small producers and organic vegetable growers have no reason to be afraid of taking their product to Peak of the Market, added Debora Durnin-Richards, the acting director of boards, commissions and legislation for Manitoba's Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.
Peak of the Market ensures competition between farmers remains fair and assures consumers their food is safe, she added.
But small retailers and farmers' markets claim the marketing board is offside with a growing number of locavores in Manitoba.
"People in this province have no idea Peak of the Market controls the potato market. I'm ticked off. Everyone in the industry knows they're trying to capture market share," said Erin Crampton, who owns Waverley Street grocery Crampton's Market, which buys produce directly from 50 growers. "I have customers who believe these ads with Larry McIntosh talking into a carrot, saying 'local, local, local.' It's incongruous."
Farmers who want to grow on a small scale and cut out the middleman have no interest in vegetable marketing boards, added the spokeswoman for Winnipeg's largest farmers' market.
"Why would they want to go to Peak of the Market?" asked Marilyn Firth of the St. Norbert Farmers' Market. "People come to farmers' markets because they want to meet their farmer and they don't want anything to come between that."
McIntosh, however, said Peak exemplifies the eat-local ethos.
"We have some very small producers as part of our organization," he said. "I think we have a sensitivity to all these issues."