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Vendors transact $1 billion annually

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Log on to www.farmersmarketscanada.ca

For an indepth presentation on the future of Canadian farmers’ markets and more detail on Farmers’ Markets Canada log on to the December 1 Agriwebinar presentation by Brent Warner found on Canadian Farm Business Management Council website at www.agriwebinar.com

Mention this the next time someone declares “no one makes any money at a farmers’ market.”

Direct sales at farmers’ markets across Canada are worth $1 billion a year, according to a new national study looking at the economic impact of small-scale farmers who direct-sell what they grow at these venues every week.

That’s the total value of sales transacted by very large vendors, such as those selling year-round in indoor markets and much smaller players earning a few hundred dollars during the summer season.

Farmers’ Markets Canada (FMC), a new national organization, will release more data in the new year from its federally-funded study of what has been a largely ignored sector in agriculture – until now.

“The days of people looking at farmers markets as some kind of little sidebar are gone,” said Brent Warner, the British Columbiabased interim executive director of FMC.

The FMC was initially founded in 2006 by provincial farmers’ market associations across the country who saw a need for a national group to recommend and advise on legislation, policies, and standards impacting this fast-growing sector.

This fall, the government announced a grant of $350,000 from its Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food (ACAAF) program to help develop FMC and fund the economic impact study. Bob Chorney with Farmers’ Markets Ontario chairs the new FMC.

Warner is an agri-tourism specialist and direct marketing advocate who has worked for the B. C. agriculture department. He was keynote speaker at the annual general meeting of this provinces new Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM) this fall.

These are exciting times for farmers’ markets and those becoming involved in them, Warner told that Portage la Prairie meeting, citing the burgeoning interest among consumers in sourcing local food at markets across the country.

But farmers markets and their vendors face challenges, often related to the laws that govern them. Meanwhile, and policies and other supports for markets are lacking.

FMC will serve as a national information exchange, whereby vendors, market managers and provincial groups can share ideas and discuss common needs and issues.

One of needs already expressed is for more training and skills development for vendors, as a means of encouraging more people to pursue opportunities in farmers markets, Warner said. The FMC will work on creating those programs so they can become available across the country.

“I believe farmers’ markets are the incubator for this country’s next generation of farmers,” Warner said.

Another key need is for a nation-wide insurance program, which would reduce the cost of liability improve coverage. FMC has also begun looking at medical and dental benefits packages that markets could offer to individual vendors at reasonable cost.

FMC also wants to begin addressing issues around standardization and harmonization of the laws that govern markets.

“There’s huge discrepancies across this country as to what you can do at farmers markets,” he said. In Eastern Canada, for example, wine can be sold in Farmers Markets. “But at Quebec that ends. So the two biggest wine-growing provinces, in Ontario and B. C. aren’t allowed to sell their wines at farmers’ markets.”

Likewise, some provinces permit the sale of supply-managed products such as eggs and allow sales of fresh as well as frozen meat and meat products, while others do not.

The FMC also hopes to pursue some longer-term infrastructure funding that could be made available to provinces and municipalities to build more indoor sites for farmers’ market venues. “If we’re going to have local food in this country for more than four months of the year, we’ve got to have some decent indoor facilities,” said Warner.

Dave Koslowsky, chair of the Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba, said FMAM supports the formation of the FMC and will be a member participant in it.

“It’s the same as a group of vendors getting together to organize a provincial organization,” Koslowsky said. “We thought the benefit of all the provinces banding together to form a Canadian version of the same thing is that they can deal with the national issues and the bigger picture.”

FMAM will send delegates to the first annual general meeting of the FMC being held in St. Catharines, Ont. on Feb. 16. A board of directors will be elected at this meeting and findings of FMC’s 2008 Economic Impact Study of Canadian Farmers’ Markets will be released then.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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