Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/9/2009 (2745 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
IN June, Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk issued an announcement that might have quietly passed most Manitobans blithely by. The government was easing restrictions on small farmers and pie makers, allowing farmers' markets to open 24 days through the season, rather than 14 so Manitobans could "enjoy more locally grown foods." It was not, however, small news to marketers who see rocketing demand for their service and their produce.
Indeed, it was heralded as a coup for marketers who see rising demand from consumers who want to buy from farmers directly.
One for the little guy? Not for potato and root vegetables growers. Even at market, they must sell through Peak of the Market, the marketing board that regulates the industry.
That was news to a lot of Manitobans, who buy fresh veggies at stands or stalls through the growing season.
Certainly it was news to many when, on Thursday, a potato farmer complained Peak of the Market had shut down his operation because he was found to have sold directly to a grocery store.
Caterers, small grocers, cranky critics of authoritarianism, consumers and ordinary joes sprung to the Internet to complain about the lack of direct access to the bounty of the land and about the quality of what they get at the supermarkets.
Welcome to the world of marketing boards, where the all for one ethos reigns, even if it comes wrapped in a slick marketing pitch featuring an avuncular friend-of-the-farmer CEO with a thing for carrots and a mittfull of recipes. Peak of the Market controls the marketing of potatoes and root vegetables of 60-plus Manitoba producers who must sell to or through the organization.
The shock and confusion of consumers is understandable. Peak of the Market is nonprofit and run by a board of producers, but it proudly wears its business stripes, competing and winning awards.
There are numerous marketing boards regulating a variety of producers in Manitoba, although fruits and most vegetables producers have chosen to work through associations rather than a mandatory registration system, complete with penalties for scofflaws.
The growth and popularity of market gardens, however, reveals consumers are looking for a more direct connection to the farmer, wanting to know the person tilling the land and harvesting the vegetable. Yet, if it's a potato or a root vegetable (except some onions), the small or large farmer must first sell through or to the middle man. So while there are now twice as many days those gardeners can meet the public at market gardens, they are permitted to do so only through the authority of the marketing board.
That farmers such as Trevor Schriemer have sold their small potatoes outside of Peak of the Market until now was a sign only of the board's indulgence. Because Mr. Schriemer was caught selling to Sobeys, his small spud sideline is off line, now.
It is a reminder that for some industries, there's no such things as small potatoes, which is how monopolies consolidate power.
Evidently, that doesn't sit well some small growers. The marketing board should find a way to accommodate their sideline operations or risk losing support among a portion of consumers who seek wider choice in the way they connect with food and farmers.