A first meeting with the provincial minister of agriculture has gone well, says a spokesman for a new organization representing direct marketers of farm products.
Phil Veldhuis is spokesman for Direct Farm Manitoba, a group organized this spring to promote an improved policy environment for direct-to-consumer farm business. They sat down last week with Ralph Eichler to introduce themselves and initiate first discussions.
“It was a positive meeting,” Veldhuis said.
The group formed after voting delegates with the now-former Farmers Market Association of Manitoba agreed to bylaw changes to include a wider membership.
They’ve had many issues brought to their attention since formation, mainly related to policy hurdles around selling farm product, Veldhuis said.
This first meeting allowed them to begin talking about these matters “in a general way,” Veldhuis said.
“We will meet again at both the ministerial level and lower levels, and we hope to get more specific next time around.”
The minister told them his government is committed to reducing red tape for small business, and wants to take a consultative approach with all commodity organizations, he added.
Direct Farm Manitoba, whose membership presently includes the 40 farmers’ markets plus those signing on as individuals, has plenty they want to talk about.
Until now, farms selling direct to consumer have been unrepresented, and need for an organization to go to bat, for this emerging sector was emerging even at the time of the release of a 2015 report called Advancing the small scale, local food sector in Manitoba, authored by retired chief veterinarian officer Wayne Lees.
The 65-page report included 21 recommendations for fostering a better working environment for both new and existing participants in the smaller-scale farm movement. It also recommended the formation of a formal organization to represent and work with government to tackle some of the thornier issues around the regulatory and policy environment for these types of farms.
That report also called for improved and much clearer communication of regulatory requirements for food business startups, and they raised that need at last week’s meeting again, Veldhuis said.
“There’s a need for plain language guides,” he said, adding they were told last week the province is working on this.
They also raised the issue of where farms might find a new niche within the quota system in supply-managed production. Direct marketers of farm products such as eggs and poultry are saying they need to be able to produce and sell larger volumes of their products than exemptions allow, Veldhuis said.
“We’ve asked to be part of that discussion. They seemed open to that,” he said.
Direct Farm Manitoba meanwhile continues to get its feet under it but could eventually represent substantial numbers of smaller-scale producers in the province.
It hopes to eventually merge with another organization, Small Farms Manitoba, which has an established membership listed in an online directory, and represents farms neither part of traditional commodity groups, selling to marketing boards and focused on direct marketing the majority of their sales.
Direct Farm Manitoba has done strategic planning with Manitoba Agriculture staff this summer, Veldhuis said. They will be taking a lead role in the organization of the 2017 Direct Farm Marketing Conference.
They’ve shortened their name, which was initially Direct Farm Marketing Association of Manitoba, he added.
Presently, the Farmers Market Association of Manitoba website remains the contact point to reach the organization.