“We need an operating budget. We have a small one.”
– DAVE KOSLOWSKY, KILLARNEY FARMER AND FMAM SPOKESPERSON
The province is kicking in $45,000 to help upgrade farmers’ markets and make sites more enticing places to visit.
The funding follows the announcement of a fed-e ral initiative grant in November of $450,000 for the Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba Co-op Inc. (FMAM) also for infrastructure upgrades. That funding is through the Conservative government’s two-year $1-billion Canada Economic Action Plan or stimulus funding program.
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Stan Struthers announced the province’s funding last week, saying farmers’ markets support many farm families and communities and provide an opportunity for Manitobans to interact with farmers and processors who sell at them.
NO OPERATING BUDGET
But while FMAM now has nearly half a million dollars to divvy up among farmers’ markets for site upgrades, the organization itself remains without an operating budget.
“We’re excited to receive this,” said Dave Koslowsky, a Killarney-area farmer and FMAM board spokesperson, but he added that the association continues to struggle without an operating budget to administer these programs.
“We need an operat ing budget. We have a small one,” Koslowsky said. “Our members do pay dues to help pay for that, but it’s not enough to keep an office running plus a person employed.”
Heifer International Canada, an internat ional charitable organization, has been FMAM’s key funder covering those costs. Over the past three years Heifer has provided nearly $70,000 in grants to help FMAM set up an office and pay a salary to their part-time staff person, said Heifer International’s Manitoba field co-ordinator Julie Price.
But Heifer’s funding comes
to an end in June 2010 and will not be renewed. Their organization does not typically fund any group over a long term, said Price.
SUPPORT LOCAL AGRICULTURE
The inf rast ructure grant through MAFRI is “a step in the right direction” but the province has a responsibility to start looking at how to support the core expenses to run a farmers’ market association here, Price said. FMAM represents hundreds of farm families and thousands of customers now selling and buying at farmers’ markets across the province, she said. Yet, FMAM continues to struggle to run an office and do everything its membership is asking to do.
“I know that the various MAFRI offices have been supportive of FMAM with a lot of in-kind stuff, but it’s been, quite frankly, a little bit frustrating that the province and federal government until this time haven’t put anything, to my knowledge, financially towards it,” she added.
“The province has put a lot of resources into larger export-oriented agriculture and that’s fine, but it needs to start putting a larger percentage of their resources into locally-focused or smaller-scale agriculture, and into organizations like FMAM that support those systems.”
FMAM’s ongoing reliance on grants worries market vendors like Dan Wiens too. A member of the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market board and owner of Wiens Shared Farm south of Winnipeg, Wiens thinks the provincial government should also provide core funding to support the association.
Farmers’ markets are a growth sector across the entire country and FMAM represents that sector here, Wiens said. Manitoba needs to look at the resources other provinces are allocating to farmers’ market growth – and what’s happening as a result. “Our next-door neighbours have year-round markets in their cities,” Wiens said. “I know it’s a partnership between the private and the public sector but they’re making it happen there. Here, we could too.”
“It’s just my observation that government could be doing more. Let’s figure out how.”
An impact study completed in 2008 for the member markets of FMAM showed the estimated overall economic value of farmers’ market activities in this province, to be at $10 million annually.